Housing project rental blasted

Heavy equipment operators are crying foul at the rental of a government-owned house to a competitor.

Housing Minister Frank McField confirmed Tuesday that Capital Trucking, a company in which he has an interest, has leased a three-bedroom apartment at the site off Eastern Avenue. The site was heavily damaged during Hurricane Ivan.

Four other homes at the site are leased, one through Social Services to a Caymanian family displaced by the hurricane, and three others.

According to Mr. McField, Elizabeth Ebanks is in charge of Capital Trucking.

‘She rented one of the units there for the truckers,’ he said.

The occupants of the other three houses are workers repairing the salvageable homes on the side for use as temporary lodging.

Roger Bodden, one of the managers of the National Housing and Community Development Trust, said Capital Trucking pays $1,000 a month to lease a three-bedroom house. He also said that the two-bedroom apartments were renting for $800 a month, each.

The rental arrangement to Capital Trucking is seen as unfair by many of the trucking and heavy equipment operators on the island, including Anthony Scott, president of the Heavy Equipment and Vehicle Operators Association

‘Do you think that if I went to them and said I wanted to rent one of those houses for my workers that I could?’ he asked.

He also noted Capital Trucking uses the site to park its trucks when not in use.

Mr. Scott said Capital Trucking is a direct competitor to the local heavy equipment operators for hurricane debris removal work. He also said the rental of a house in the affordable housing project to a competitor is part of a larger issue of the way the debris removal contracts have been granted.

The situation, though, is not hurting his company.

‘This project is too small and we’re too busy with big projects,’ he said. ‘But it’s all these guys with one backhoe, one or two trucks, or one excavator who are getting hurt. At the end of the month they need to pay mortgages and they’re being disenfranchised.’

Mr. Scott said he had to speak up on these matters as president of HEAVO.

‘Guys (HEAVO members) are calling me every day wanting to know what is going on,’ he said, adding that he had placed three telephone calls in an attempt to determine the situation with Capital Trucking’s vehicles at the government’s Eastern Avenue housing site with no success.

‘At first I thought, great, now Dr. Frank has got the contract to clean up the houses he wasted our money to build,’ said Mr. Scott.

Heavy Equipment Operator Paul Bodden said the issue is not about money.

‘These houses were built for low-income families. We have Caymanians who are homeless. Why aren’t they there?’

Mr. Bodden commented on the relationship between Mr. McField being the Cabinet minister in charge of housing and an owner in Capital Trucking. ‘I think it’s a conflict of interest,’ he said,

Mr. McField said the rental arrangements are temporary. ‘The Eastern Avenue site will not be used for permanent rentals or for sale.

‘The decision was made by the board of the National Housing and Community Development Trust after the hurricane to develop the site for apartments. Therefore, badly damaged houses are being taken down, and houses with minor damage are being repaired in order to allow them to be used as temporary accommodations for workers.’

Mr. McField said none of the homes at the site have electricity.

‘They’re using generators at the moment,’ he said, adding that it is expensive to power the two large generators.

Eventually, all of the homes at the Eastern Avenue site are to be torn down to build high-density, multi-storey housing accommodations, Mr. McField said. ‘We have a real issue with land, so we decided to use the insurance money to redesign the whole project.’

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