Tibbetts: Social housing policy likely

Cayman may require a social housing policy to address the provision of accommodation for people who cannot afford to pay for their own homes, Kurt Tibbetts, the minister in charge of housing told legislators last week.

The issue was highlighted last month when it was revealed that families in West Bay’s Apple Blossom housing development feared they would be left homeless because their sub-standard homes are due to be demolished but they cannot afford to buy or rent homes elsewhere.

Mr. Tibbetts said that the buildings at Apple Blossom had been condemned and would be demolished and that government would have to make a policy decision on the issue, adding “we are going to be faced with a situation that we will have to be looking at some type of social program with regards to living quarters for some individuals.”

He continued: “We recognize that we can’t have these people out of these homes with nowhere to go so that is the challenge that government has to face. And it will not end just right there because there are other circumstances which are similar.

“We just may not be able to deal with it all at one time and we may have to phase it over a few years, but at least we started on it.”

Speaking at a finance committee meeting at the Legislative Assembly last week, the minister said houses being built under the auspices of the National Housing Development Trust would be constructed to a much higher standard than those at Apple Blossom.

He said there would be no repeat of the Apple Blossom situation where affordable homes were so badly built, they had to be demolished without government making any money back on that investment.

“Those homes had some difficulty for several years … the biggest issue is one of safety because the buildings are in poor condition and have been condemned. Unfortunately, some of the people who live in those homes have been there for quite some time,” said Mr. Tibbetts.

He said an assessment of those residents’ needs was being carried out and he gave assurances to residents of Apple Blossom that they would not be displaced until somewhere else was found for them to go.

East End MLA Arden McLean questioned how many of the condemned homes in the Apple Blossom development were still standing. Mr. Tibbetts responded: “32 homes are left standing which were all deemed unfit.”

There has been a variety of arrangements for residents of National Housing Development Trust housing over the years, including outright purchase of homes, rental and a lease-to-own setup, which is further complicating the housing issue, Mr. Tibbetts said.

“If the program had been done right from the beginning the way we would have liked to do it, certainly we would be in a different position now,” he said.

The minister acknowledged that there had been few financial returns for government on earlier affordable housing initiatives. “The first part of the pool is gone, dead and nothing to show for it,” said Mr. Tibbetts.

However, government would see some returns from affordable homes projects in Bodden Town, he said, adding that ultimately they would yield more than $7 million.

The minister also said that he hoped that affordable housing could be made available in all districts of the Cayman Islands, pointing out that future affordable housing would need to include multi-family dwellings.

At the meeting, legislators voted to grant a budget of $2.4 million to the National Housing Development Trust for the 2014/2015 financial year.