Tackling the squatting situation…Minister extends deadline to January 2018By Lakhram BhagiratA resident displaying the noticeJust last week, officials from the Central Housing and Planning Authority (CH&PA) promised squatters at Sophia, Greater Georgetown that they would not evacuate them until they were issued with lands but the housing body is now back-pedalling on their word and have since issued the squatters with a notice to remove by November 2.Over 50 squatters of Sophia who were affected by the recent demolition exercise executed by the CH&PA on Monday, picketed the Housing Ministry calling for more time before their forced removal and more importantly, alternative housing arrangements.The residents said they received a letter from the CH&PA on Friday indicating that they would have to remove their homes and all their belongings by November 2. The notice informed that failure to comply would result in legal proceedings against them.Councillor Akeem Peter addressing the protesters“My reason for being out here is these people just come and served us notice [for] the 2nd November and we have approximately two weeks to move. Now if we are squatting on the reserve it means that we have nowhere to go and now when you come and serve us this notice for two weeks, where are we going to go. If we had places to go then we would have never been on the Government reserves,” squatter Lorianne Alexander said.Another resident, Nickela Mc Lennon, said she has been living in Sophia for a number of years and has an application for a house lot in the system but is getting the royal runaround by the authority.Addressing the concerns of the squatters was People’s National Congress Councillor Akeem Peter who tried to get the squatters to protest in a non-confrontational manner.Housing Minister Valarie Yearwood“Your voices have been here and the Ministers and the Government knows that it is people they are dealing with. I am going into them with the application forms… we cannot be confrontational. Persons have long associated squatters with violence and rowdy behaviour. The first move when people hear squatters are gathering is that they call the Police,” he told the vocal group of protesters.“The notices are going to be one of the issues we will be discussing immediately with the Minister. The reason why we are here is to get the attention of the Minister and we have gotten it, so the next thing is for me to submit the applications to the Minister so she can fast track the process,” Councillor Peter added.Deadline extendedMeanwhile, Housing Minister Valerie Yearwood and Chief Executive Officer of the CH&PA, Lelon Saul, called a press conference later in the day to address the concerns. The Minister told the media that the squatters would have until the end of January 2018 to remove or be removed. She said that every time the Government announces a new strategy to deal with the squatting situation, the number of squatters increases.“As of May (2017) we had 543 squatters and I can assure you that the number is well above that number. Every night new apartments are being erected,” she said.Yearwood said the squatters are costing the utility companies since they are stealing electricity and tampering with water mains.She said to date, 266 notices have been served to the squatters so they are all informed of the consequences should they continue to squat. The Minister added that the extension is to facilitate the development of a plot of land at Industry to have the squatters relocated there.“We are targeting squatters who have allocations, the unoccupied buildings and our team went in and identified those buildings and the representatives from Sophia asked them to demolish those buildings because people are using them to gamble and rape girls and a lot of things,” Yearwood said.Saul said the Housing Authority would not condone squatting since it is illegal.