Government to raze 
old affordable homes

The government’s affordable homes built in Windsor Park only eight years ago will be demolished to make way for newer, better-constructed homes.

According to officials with the National Housing Development Trust, the government is simply waiting for the remaining few residents at the site to be moved elsewhere before demolition commences.

After that process is complete, newer homes – 26 in total – will be built on the George Town site.

“I wouldn’t say they are a bit [higher quality], they are 1,000 per cent better quality,” said housing trust Managing Director Janet James. “They are concrete and steel and can withstand up to Category 3 hurricane strength winds.”

Similar newer homes have already been built on housing trust sites in West Bay and East End. Ms James said the trust is seeking to develop a certain standard of living in communities designed for lower-income residents.

“It’s a known fact that, if people’s living standards go up, it improves the social standard of the country,” she said.

The affordable housing initiative has plans to expand into Bodden Town as well.

The original affordable homes were built by the United Democratic Government’s administration under the direction of then-Cabinet Minister Frank McField. In addition the Windsor Village site, similar prefabricated homes were built on sites off Eastern Avenue in George Town and in West Bay off Captain Joe Osbert Road.

Many of the old prefabricated homes were damaged or destroyed during Hurricane Ivan in September 2004 and others began having serious maintenance issues such as rust and leaking.

The previous affordable housing initiative project came under scrutiny of the Auditor General’s office on several fronts, including the quality of the construction materials and work done on those homes.

A January 2005 report titled ‘Special Report on the Affordable Housing Initiative’ was completed by former Auditor General Dan Duguay’s office. It has still never formally been released to the public but a copy was obtained by the Caymanian Compass in 2005.

The report noted one concern in the former contract for the affordable homes that was “signed without any significant input from the Planning Department’s building control unit”.

Various non-compliance issues with Cayman’s building code included inadequate fire detection devices to improper foundations, according to the auditor general.

Attempts to correct those issues led to delays in the project completion and therefore possibilities of increased costs.

“It would have been prudent for the Ministry of Community Service to seek assistance…in determining whether the construction plans being proposed were in line with Cayman Islands building standards before signing a contract,” the 2005 report noted.

Management noted in its response to the Auditor General’s office: “Prior to signing the contracts, both [contracts] had been vetted by the Legal Department. The construction contract specifies that the construction must be in compliance with the Cayman Islands planning, building, plumbing and electrical codes.”

Various financial difficulties with the former project were also outlined in the report, which has never been reviewed by the Public Accounts Committee of the Legislative Assembly.

Ms James said she did not wish to comment on the former affordable housing project, as she was not working for the housing trust at the time it went forward.

“The main thing for the Windsor Park site is that we’re redoing it,” she said. “The persons there that are affected are aware of [the pending demolition].”

Demand high

There have been hundreds of applications for newly completed affordable homes in the West Bay and East End districts of Grand Cayman, according to the National Housing Development Trust.

Unfortunately, there are only 41 homes to go around…at least for now.

The 12 affordable homes in East End are fully constructed and are waiting on bank approvals for the loan applications. The 29 homes along North West Point Road in West Bay are “95 per cent” complete, according to Ms James, and the agency is still accepting applications for those properties.

“This is a very competitive application process,” Ms James said. “Demand is much greater than supply.”

The homes were built as part of the trust’s new affordable housing initiative, one of several housing-related programmes managed by the agency.

To qualify for a government-backed home loan under the affordable housing initiative, the applicant must be a first-time home buyer who is not earning more than $35,000 per year if they are applying alone or more than $50,000 per year if there is more than one person applying for the loan. The person must have been employed for at least a year, or self-employed for two years, and must currently reside in Grand Cayman.

They also must be within the age required for repaying a mortgage, generally between 20 and 60.

The affordable housing initiative loans are very restrictive. Ms James said the applicants must provide a wide range of information to government, including birth certificates and school reports for children living in the home, credit references, personal references and a police clearance certificate, among other items. Individuals who are self-employed must provide copies of financial statements and trade and business licences as well.

“We want to know who the neighbours are, who is in the community,” Ms James said. “We want to know that the kids are living here, not overseas. We’re community-building here.”

Home prices are the same across the board; $77,000 for one bedroom, $95,000 for two bedrooms and $120,000 for a three- bedroom home. However, after the East End project, Ms James said the Trust decided it would not be doing single-family homes anymore. There are two available in East End.

Closing costs range between $2,450 and $4,200.

Those purchasing an affordable home through the Trust can sell those properties, but the agency will get “first dibs” on the buy-back and will be able to purchase the home at its original sale price.