Governor assures man'amko, it's not for sale
There’s one unusual property on Guam’s Tumon Bay hotel row. Nestled between multi-million dollar high rise hotels is the decidedly low rise Guma Tranquilidat. The one story concrete homes there are right on the beach, within walking distance of stores and churches. Medical facilities aren’t far away either. As its name suggests, it’s an oasis of peace and quiet in the middle of the bustling tourist district.
It’s Guam’s premier low cost housing for the elderly, the 1980s inspiration of Guam Gov. Ricky Bordallo. Through Section 8 subsidies and low or no cost utilities, it’s a God-send for those whose fixed incomes have been decimated by the island’s increasingly growing cost of living in the past 40 years. Understandably the man’amkos, many of whom have lived there for decades, love the place.
But there’s trouble in this little piece of paradise. Prospective developers with very deep pockets have been salivating over this property from almost the beginning. If they had their way, Guma Tranq would have been leased out long ago and replaced by yet another hotel or perhaps a big time convention center.
There’s also an ongoing argument about whether this is the best and fairest use of public property and resources. There are only 49 units, with nearly 4,000 qualified applicants on a waiting list. And you can’t even get on that list most of the time. Those close to Guma Tranq which is administered by the Guam Housing and Urban Renewal Authority (GHURA), estimate that upwards of 6,000 people would also meet the guidelines, if the appropriate housing was available. GHURA has other vacant public land, but would need serious cash to add housing stock.
Over the years there have been plenty of blue-sky ideas about how to parlay this unquestionably valuable property into new and improved housing for the man’amko, meeting their medical needs and improving their living conditions with a facility funded by a lucrative, long term lease of the land which would also accommodate many more eligible elderly.
This has been brought up before, to explosive opposition. This time around, all it took was a couple of local TV stories to scare the be-jesus out of the residents, even though there are no actual, solid plans in place to do anything of the sort. The duty to defuse this political time bomb, with howling legislators, relatives of huge extended families and the vocal, if elderly residents themselves, fell to Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero.
Gov. Leon Guerrero started with a visit to home of Rose Sison, 93, a 25 year resident, who said she had been weeping and sleepless since hearing what she believed was the news that she would be evicted.
“And I assured her that whatever the media’s saying, it’s not true. We’re not moving them and I don’t know how the media got that. It’s just made our poor man’amko stressed out and they don’t need to be stressed out any more. And I assured her that she’s not going to be moved anywhere and that she’s going to be staying here. I talked to her about other ways that we could maybe enhance Guam Tranqilidat, provide more space for our man’amko here, so that everyone here can enjoy the last few years of their life to make it really a guma tranquilidat.”
A 22 year resident of Guam Tranq is Napoleon Canite, who recalled with the governor, the previous effort to lease out the property, which was thwarted by the late Guam Senator Vicente “Ben” Pangelinan:
Canite: “This property was owned by the Lujans. And the Lujan donated this to the government and GHURA.”
Gov. L.G: “It was Governor Ricky Bordallo’s project.”
Canite: “And one of this conditions was that we will donate this property..”
Gov. L.G.:”For the man’amko…”
Canite: “For the use of the man’amko,,,
Gov. L.G.: “Yes, and we are going to honor that. So I am very sorry you lost sleep last night. It should not have happened. There has never been a discussion with me or in any of our platform. What I want to do is see how we can make more space and more accommodations for our man’amko. But I never once said, nor has my administration ever said that we are going to sell this Guma Tranquilidat.”
It sounds like a very firm commitment, but makers of public policy are ducking for cover, given the furious response to the idea without much discussion of related issues. Observers have pointed out, for example, that evacuating this vulnerable population would be a nightmare, should a tsunami or major storm surge strike the seashore facility.
Asked about how the short housing supply would be dealt with, Gov. Leon Guerrero said that federal grants could be tapped to use vacant or abandoned GHURA land and properties for renovated and new construction.