Living out of a suitcase | Sunday Observer

Living out of a suitcase

On April 11 last year when the dream of a new house became a reality for Tharanga Rajeewa perhaps he had never envisioned having to once again live in a shelter adjacent to his home on Angampitiya Road, Ethulkotte. But as cracks began to appear on the walls, floors and even on the ceiling of his house, experts from the National Building Research Organization (NBRO) last week asked his family along with 24 other families to evacuate the building immediately or risk losing their lives.

The housing complex which Tharanga, a father of two calls his home was built by the Kotte Municipal Council (KMC) for 12 families who were living on this particular land belonging to the local government authority. While the families have been living in this plot of land for 20 years since 1997 according to them each family has paid Rupees 75 as rent to the KMC while also paying for electricity and water in their own names when a proposal was made by the KMC to construct a housing complex for them during the time of former Mayor Janaka Ranawaka.

According to residents while the initial plan was to build 12 apartments for those who were already living on the land it later increased to 24 apartments while also reducing the initial house space promised to them. The apartments only consist of one room, a common sitting and kitchen area along with a bathroom located in the balcony.

After receiving the newly built homes the residents say they pay a monthly rent of Rupees 1,000 to the KMC and an additional Rupees 100 if it is delayed. According to many it is a fee they are willing to pay if they had in fact received good quality housing. But unfortunately the residents say the apartments have not been in a livable condition since its inception with the condition becoming more serious in the recent days.

Tharanga’s apartment is the one furthest on the ground floor adjoining a waterway. While cracks appear all over the house, it has also somewhat sunk in from the back.

According to him the floors are damp even on a normal day with some of the apartments suffering from severe water damage. According to him other apartments adjacent to the waterway has also started to sink in while a staircase built at the back had also crumbled several months ago. ¨I noticed the cracks on certain parts of the walls on the day we were handed over the houses itself¨, Tharanga says adding that just a month in, he visited the KMC to complain regarding the various bursts and cracks appearing all over his new home. The damage which has started at the very end of the housing complex has now reached the front of the building. However residents claim that while complaints fell on deaf ears workers from the construction company were sent to resolve the various issues.

¨When we complained the contractors attempted to merely plaster the walls but we did not allow them as we knew the damage was more serious and cannot be rectified in that way,¨ he claims.

As the situation worsened last week with the NBRO on initial investigation concluding that the condition of the complex had reached dangerous levels and ordered an immediate evacuation of the complex, initial investigations also showed that instead of the required 12 concrete beams the contractors had only installed three beams during the construction.

As a result all residents of the Ethulkotte, Angampitiya New Housing Complex were evacuated to temporary shelters indefinitely pending a full report by the National Building Research Organization (NBRO) regarding the condition and stability of the complex.

According to the Kotte Municipal Commissioner Vasantha Ratnapala, 12 families have been relocated to the Angampitiya Medical Health Clinic while the rest are being housed at the Mahindarama Gymnasium.

¨This is the best solution we can give them considering the current situation¨ she says. “Any further action and support can only be given after the completion of the report by the NBRO”.

However, according to Ratnapala while no time frame for the completion of the report has been given a team of experts from the organization are currently conducting an extensive investigation at the housing site. She promised that the Kotte Municipal Council (KMC) will provide the residents with solutions to the issue while also taking action against the construction company if found to be guilty of substandard construction.

Meanwhile, the families are struggling to continue with their day to day lives at the temporary shelter. Around 30 people including children and the elderly are currently sharing one hall area and one bathroom while a tent has been set up to prepare meals. Many have not attended work since last week as a result of the issue.

¨I have not gone to work for over two weeks now,” says K.L.G Gunadasa an electrician by profession. According to him he is unable to leave his sick wife in the temporary shelter as unlike in their own home she finds it difficult to attend to her own needs.

Despite no alternative housing and having had lived in similar circumstances during the construction of the complex unfortunately authorities confirm that the residents of the complex will have a long wait till a definite solution is arrived at.

Pix: Saliya Peiris