By Anna Gaskell Observer Staff Writer (Nevis) – Either side of the dirt road there are brightly painted houses. Each house looks remarkably like the one next to it. The only signs of difference are in the colours; some houses are light green, others light yellow. It’s Saturday afternoon and a couple of boys are cycling up and down the dusty road. They”re waiting for the time when somebody’s parents will take them to the drag racing. Welcome to Golden Grove, a two year-old low-income housing development in Brown Hill. The absence of trees and shade makes it feel hot and still. Even the goats that walk around the unfenced yards seem to be moving slower than usual. To the people who live here, however, the most important thing about this development is that it is a place to call home. “It’s your own place, you know,” says Rosa, a single mother of two. The bareness of the site allows you to do your own thing and make it more your own, she says. Another resident assures me that life is peaceful here. He moved to Brown Hill from Bath Village, where he was living with his parents. “Neighbours say good morning,” he says. Also, the only noise you hear is kids playing, and that’s the kind of noise you don’t mind hearing, he says. Rosa had wanted to be nearer Charlestown for her children’s school runs, but she admits that it is at least “nice and breezy here.” It is a strange community though. Too new for there to be any real connection to the place. When I ask Rosa what she thinks of the community, she says “I don’t really think about whether it’s good or bad, I just get on with my life.” According to the Housing Minister, Robelto Hector, the government tries to place applicants for these “low-income” houses according to where they”re from originally. “We try to put people in the area they”re connected to,” he says. This must be so as not to sever the sense of community that they shared in their original neighborhoods. Of course it doesn’t always work according to plan. Mr. Hector says that both the availability of the housing and the different needs of the applicants mean that not everyone gets placed exactly where they want to be. But another resident I speak to says that the very fact that people in Golden Grove are from “different places and different backgrounds” makes the community work better. There are no pre-existing groups settled into their own ways, so everyone just gets along. After all, one of the most apparent motivations for moving into the new housing developments is the wish to live separately from the rest of one’s family. Mr. Hector tells me that of the 800 applications for government housing that were on his desk when he came into office, many were from members of the same families, who wanted to have a separate place of their own. Golden Grove is supposed to be a “low-income” housing development; the homes are supposed to be “affordable.” One resident says he thinks it is “worth what he spent”, but Rosa says she thinks the price “could have been lower.” She looks at me straight and says, ‘this seems more like high-income housing, to me.” When I speak to Eustace Nisbett of the Nevis Land and Housing Corporation, he says that there are constraints on building cheaply in Nevis, simply because so much of the building materials have to be imported from abroad. The money spent on the construction of the houses comes from a government loan, withdrawn specifically for this purpose. People who need affordable housing then apply to the government for a placement. Government officials interview the applicants to see if they”re eligible to get a loan from the bank, with which to buy their house. So the government makes the low-cost housing available, and then the people who need it apply for a loan from the bank. If successful, the house is bought and the bank loans can be paid back over many years. Rosa still has 24 years of repayment time to go. Overall Mr. Hector views the Golden Grove project as a success. He says they”ve had so many applications for housing there, and if all of them had been approved, there would be three times as many houses on at the Golden Grove site. Instead, to account for the demand in the area, the government had to start a similar development down the road in Prospect. Some residents are less sure of the success of Golden Grove. I speak to a group of young people who are sitting around outside one of the light yellow houses. They”re watching one guy tattoo some dark letters onto his friend’s neck. I watch too; I can’t help it. Then I ask them if they like it here. “I just live here,” one says in response, as if he wants to have no other connection to the place. Just that coincidental fact of a bed and four walls. “Isn’t there anything good about this place?” I ask. The tattooist answers me, “No.” They tell me, look at the road. Even the more grateful of the residents join this young group in saying that the road still needs to be paved. Every car leaves dust in its wake. “The government has been saying they”ll do something about it for a long time,” says one resident. I ask Mr. Hector about the road. He says that because of drainage issues in Nevis, “many roads have been ruined because they were rushed.” He says he doesn’t want to rush in and build a road “just for political impact.” The good news is that Surrey Paving, the Jamaican construction company, has completed the plans for this particular stretch of road, and now it’s a matter of getting the funds together. He won’t give me a date of commencement because he says he doesn’t want to let anyone down if things don’t go exactly to schedule. The young group doesn’t only complain about the road. They say that the water pipes back up every time there’s heavy rain, and that the cisterns are badly designed. Mr. Hector says he doesn’t know if these allegations are true. They need to be verified by the appropriate people before anything can be done about them. “I suggest the residents of Golden Grove get Eustace Nisbett, from the Land and Housing Corporation (469 5951), to see if there are problems with the structural design of the houses. As Mr. Hector told me, there are serious housing needs in Nevis. 800 applications in his first week in government office. Obviously some people will think the houses aren’t cheap enough. It’s likely, too, that buildings constructed within tight financial budgets will have structural problems. And it is hard to imagine that everyone would be happy in such a bare and unvarying a place as Golden Grove. But some people are. And they know and trust their new neighbours well enough to let their children go to the Saturday afternoon drag racing with them.
Not All Glitters in Golden Grove
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