Jamaicans living in the US lost their homes

Some have since resorted to paying rent, while others have returned home.

Audrey Wilson, a Jamaican living in Florida, was sad yesterday as she told stories of her country folk who have lost their homes.

Wilson, who is from Kingston, has been living in the US for 19 years. She owns a mortgage-brokerage business and is a licensed real-estate broker. She told The Gleaner that Jamaicans living there, who had invested in unregistered schemes which have failed, had their problems compounded because of the financial crisis now gripping the US.

“It is a shame. Many persons are embarrassed because they have lost their homes and investment. Oh God! It’s just sad and unbelievable!” she said.

A female friend of Wilson’s lost her Pembroke Pines, Florida, home after mortgaging her property for US$120,000 (J$8.64 million) and investing the money in the once-popular Cash Plus, which is now bankrupt. She now lives in a rented home.

To make matters worse, the friend lost her accounting job shortly after the 10 per cent monthly returns on her Cash Plus investment dried up.

“So, she had mortgage plus payments and the US$12,000 (the monthly returns) stopped. She then realised that she could not meet her financial obligations, so she had to sell her home,” said Wilson.

Another friend of Wilson’s is currently facing foreclosure on his home. He met a similar fate, having taken out a mortgage on his property and investing the money in Cash Plus.

Assistant Commissioner of Police, Les Green, head of the Major Investigations Task force which is spearheading the enquiry into the operation of the failed investment scheme, said foreigners with Jamaican ties ranked among the top investors of such entities.

Green could not state how many people were affected or the sum involved, but said a number of foreign-based Jamaicans had made complaints to the investigative team.

“It’s a real tragedy for these people,” said Green, adding “there are certainly people who have invested heavily, several who invested over US$1 million.”

A study conducted by the Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CaPRI) last November, showed that 21 per cent of 402 local investors in alternative schemes had borrowed from financial institutions to obtain their deposits.

Kim-Marie Spence, a consultant at CaPRI, said while conducting the study, anecdotal evidence showed that a number of US residents, with ties to Jamaica, had mortgaged their properties to invest in the schemes.

“The study was conducted locally, so we don’t have figures pertaining to the number of foreign investments, but we did get anecdotal evidence of Jamaicans who had mortgaged homes to invest,” said Spence.

The study also showed that of the hundreds of respondents, 13.6 per cent had sold assets and another 44.5 per cent had used their savings to invest in the unregulated schemes.

The financial crisis in the US is already affecting many Jamaicans, said Wilson.

For some Jamaicans working in the US, the situation has become worse as they are among the 750,000 people who have lost their jobs since the start of the year. Wilson said four of her friends who lost their jobs have since returned to Jamaica.