Residents press for answers at West Bay housing meeting

Residents of Apple Blossom affordable homes in West Bay, in a “rowdy” meeting on Thursday, pressed government officials for answers about where they will live when their homes are torn down. 

Government is tearing down the homes – whose owners, in most cases, are delinquent on their mortgage payments – because the properties are a major potential liability. Residents of Apple Blossom fear they will be left homeless. 

In a follow-up statement on Friday, George Powell, the chairman of the Housing Development Trust, said, “There is a plan in place, which involved multiple agencies, including the Department of Children and Family Services. 

“As you may have heard communicated, no tenants are being displaced. However, the houses they currently occupy have been condemned. In fairness to the tenants, this issue needs resolved ASAP. 

“I wish to stress that the government will ensure that no-one is left homeless through this process.” 

He then outlined the process for tenants, including participating in the assessments by the Needs Assessment Unit of the Department of Children & Family Services. 

Powell, along with board members and other government officials, hosted the meeting to update residents on the affordable homes situation. 

Mr. Powell said afterward he did not know how much headway they made at the meeting, but at least they told the residents what the plans were for the future and were giving residents time to make their own assessments. 

“It was a bit rowdy at times, but I sort of expected it. I do not know how much gains we made today – I think we still need to do some education on this process. 

At the meeting, Mr. Powell tried to assure residents that government will not be tearing down their homes before finding them suitable accommodations. 

He went on to highlight the process by which the scheme would be reconstructed, explain how the Housing Trust was in negotiations with banks for better interest rates, what the new homes would cost and what the down payment would be. 

“The process we are going to be taking is to re-parcel the property, design new homes and commence construction. This will take about four to five months to complete. We are telling you this so residents can have adequate time to make arrangements,” said Powell, who then opened the floor to residents. 

“What bank will qualify me for a loan?” said Darcy Murdock, 56, who has owned a house in the scheme for 10 years, 

“I do not feel we should be going through a bank at this time. We should be going back to what we were promised. When they gave us these houses, they knew what hurricanes and gusts were. You need to give us a second option…” 

Ms. Murdock went on to say she knew there were some people who were delinquent in their mortgage payments, whether because of lost of jobs or illness, but they should be given a second chance to let them come back to their homes.  

“They are sending us to social services – they will pay rent for three months, then we are on our own. What happens then?” Ms. Murdock said. 

“I am not leaving #61 whether they come with boom, excavator or bulldozer until I understand they will take my receipts and put them to another home.” 

At that point the meeting got rowdy as people shouted questions at Mr. Powell and he tried to answer. As it was raining, board members left their seats, with some calling for Mr. Powell to end the meeting. 

But residents continued with their questions. 

“It would make no significant difference if National Housing Trust was still doing the mortgages,” said Mr. Powell. “The ministry insisted that people who are unable to pay a mortgage, they will find somewhere for you.”  

A resident then shouted, “I want that in writing.” 

Another said, “I not leaving my home.” 

Julio Ramos of the Housing Trust said the minister was aware of the situation, but he did not want to rely on just one report.  

“You want justice, well you are being given the one opportunity to go to the social services to be assessed. Why social service? They will be the best to assess you on a personal level. Then a policy will be put in place to help you,” Mr. Ramos said.  

“For two months!” a resident shouted in response. “And where is the housing minister?” 

MLA Bernie Bush, third elected member for West Bay, said the Housing Development Trust was not trying to throw the people on the street. But what he did not see happening was 90 percent of people qualifying for homes when the whole procedure is over. “What happens then is the question that needs to be answered,” Mr. Bush said. 

“What happens to residents who had some setbacks and were making efforts to pay? That should be looked at. We have to find a middle ground because we definitely cannot throw these people on the streets. That is just not the Caymanian way.” 

When asked if government was thinking of putting the people in the old John Silvers apartments on Church Street, West Bay, Mr. Bush said that was bought some years ago by McKeeva Bush to start a tourism vocational school but it has never been used and it is just sitting there.  

Shawn Ebanks, of a group called Justice for Cayman, said the people want decent living quarters while the homes are being torn down. 

“They knocked down a certain amount of homes in Windsor Park, a certain amount of people were left there, government built the homes and the people that were left were slowly moved into the new homes. Why is that not an option for West Bay?” Mr. Ebanks said. 

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2 COMMENTS

  1. I don’t want to see any of these people end up on the street. However, if the government is going to provide houses for everyone that can’t afford them then we are going to have another major financial crisis on our hands over the next ten years as the local economy continues to deteriorate.

    Income redistribution by way of direct taxation will be required to meet the financial needs of the government’s social welfare initiatives.

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