La crise du logement, ravivée par les inondations, a mis en exergue les critères d’attribution des logements sociaux. La dernière relocation en date concerne les sinistrés de Anse Courtois qui ont été relogés à Gros Cailloux dans des maisons de 31m2. Ces personnes sortant d’une situation infra-humaine accèdent désormais à des maisons qui sont loin de respecter leur dignité . La reconnaissance exprimée aux autorités cache mal leur frustration qu’ils n’osent pas exprimer dans ce contexte. La Commission Justice et Paix attire l’attention sur ce problème.After the traumatising flash flood of 30 March 2013, twelve families, who were living by the river bank in Anse Courtois amidst the most abject poverty, have been relocated in a social house of 31m2 in Gros Cailloux. Your article (“Familles relogées, dignité retrouvée!” dated 31 May 2013) conveys the joy, sense of security and the feeling of relief that the families felt when they moved in their new house. Indeed after living in sub-human conditions for years, the families can only be overjoyed to be moving in a house made of concrete. And we can all rejoice in their newfound hope for a better future after eons of hopelessness and adversity.
Nonetheless, after the heartfelt feeling of happiness for the families, the Justice and Peace Commission questions the sustainability of their new situation.
Let us take for example the case of this couple with five children. It is mentioned, in your article, that only 2 two-storey beds could be fitted in one of the bedrooms. Clearly a simple wardrobe and a table to do homework will not fit in the bedroom. Of course, authorities tell us that the house is built in such a way that it is possible for the family to build another storey in the future for more living space. However, the precarious condition of this family undermines its social and economic sustainability, that is, their ability to sustain themselves now and to improve their condition in the future. In fact, the second storey may never actualise.
According to the National Empowerment Foundation, to benefit from such a social house, this family of seven must be earning not more than Rs6,200. Actually, they are also paying a monthly house rent of Rs1,000, hence leaving Rs5,200 for their monthly living expenses. The recent Household Budget Survey 2012 estimated the poverty line for a family of four (two adults and two children of less than 16 years old) to Rs13,330 per month. Still, according to the Household Budget Survey 2012, the average Mauritian family spends Rs6,540 per month on foodstuff. A simple arithmetic calculation indicates that it is not possible for a family of seven earning not more Rs6,200 and paying a monthly rent of Rs 1,000, to have a decent living now and still plan to build a second storey to the house in the near future. Hence the economic sustainability of this family is seriously in doubt.
Putting a family of seven, already living below the poverty line, in a 31m2 house does not foster their social upliftment as overcrowding soon becomes a serious social issue. Firstly, overcrowding generates promiscuity, for example there is no privacy for pubescent girls sharing one bedroom with five sibblings. Secondly, with no space for a table to study and do homework, away from the usual hustle and bustle of a household, children lag behind the school curriculum thus hindering their academic learning process, leaving them with little perspective for a decently remunerated job later in life. Thirdly, the main leisure activity of many poor families is simply watching the television, but there is neither a place to put the television set nor a sofa to sit and watch programs. Hence, living in an overcrowded house impairs the quality of life and perpetuates the cycle of poverty. If we add other scourges that often plague many poor families, such as drug addiction, alcoholism, prostitution, job insecurity, violence, it is mayhem and endless tales of woe. In short, instead of contributing towards improving their social and economic situation and constructing a better society, putting poor families in a 31m2 house and the pre-conditions to benefit from it, are in fact only keeping families in perpetual poverty.
Going beyond the immediate gratification of having a safe roof over their head and being protected from the whims of climatic conditions, the Justice and Peace Commission advocates for housing conditions and environment that is conducive for a decent quality of life, that respects human dignity and be sustainable for poor families and the country. Providing sub-standard housing conditions now, only incubates social ills and precipitates its emergence in the future.
Moving poor families from a sub-human to a sub-standard housing condition is certainly a progression yet not sufficient to restore their full human dignity and placing them on the pathway towards social and economic inclusion. Until poor families are considered as sub-standard citizens, they will be given sub-standard houses, for which they are expected to be grateful, indebted towards gracious donators and, above all, not to utter a complain. Do poor families only deserve to live in sub-standard houses with discounted dignity?