Housing Trust: Does it deserve Cayman's trust?

In our minds, the list of government’s obligations to the people is brief, and largely coincides with the requirements for an individual’s survival advancement, for example: sustenance, safety, education, shelter, and freedom of speech and action.

A government that does not ensure the provision of those necessities is not much of a government at all, and a country that does not care for their most vulnerable is hardly worth having been constituted.

There are, of course, limits to those efforts. No system devised by man is perfect.

Not all societies have the resources requisite for the challenge. However, those are the measures by which we judge the performance of our leaders, and, by extension, the Cayman Islands as a whole, which, with all its wealth, has little recourse to excuses about finances.

Yet we continue to fall short. And in some areas, such as affordable housing, we don’t even seem to be making any progress.

Since the National Housing Development Trust was created in the early 2000s, the program has been plagued by allegations of mismanagement and outright misdeeds. The catalog of complaints includes substandard construction, poor accountability and financial irregularities. The results, ultimately, are that many of the neediest Caymanians have been deprived of the simple security of knowing where they, and their family members, can call home for the foreseeable future.

Two years ago, following yet another scandal at the Housing Development Trust (one that resulted in a guilty verdict and six-month prison sentence for the Trust’s former deputy chairman Edlin Myles, who is appealing the court’s decision), the UDP government overhauled the Trust, installing Rayal Bodden as board chairman.

Mr. Bodden, along with general manager Julio Ramos, announced that the Trust was changing tack, and would be building higher-quality, higher-cost houses, which they would no longer offer for sale, but would rent out for five years at a time.

Now, the Progressives are back in power, the board has a different chairman (George Powell), and the Trust is again allowing, even encouraging, clients to become purchasers.

Whether they’re renting or leasing-to-own, however, doesn’t seem to make much difference for the 46 families living in the newly built affordable homes, as far as paying their bills to the Trust is concerned. Already, half of the families are “delinquent” in payments, with 23 owing nearly $60,000 in all, or $2,600 per “delinquent” family.

While we are glad to see that half of the families have been able to keep up with their payments so far, the overall numbers illustrate either a general disdain among clients of fulfilling contracts signed with government, a widespread inability to come up with the money each month, or both.

In the case of the former, the Trust should be stepping up enforcement efforts. Even if those clients are truly in need of housing, so are scores of (potentially more responsible) families awaiting Trust homes. If the latter is the prevailing truth, then that is indicative of contracts being signed under duress by people who, quite literally, have nowhere else to go, and who are probably in need of assistance most of all. That is a problem for the Trust, in conjunction with other social service agencies, to rectify.

We’re not ready to adjudge the Trust’s latest housing scheme as being another failure. But the numbers are bright red flags, which possibly portend an expensive disaster, both in human and monetary terms.

For more than a decade, the Trust has been unable to justify its mission and existence, by adequately answering the following question: Should Cayman’s government continue acting as builder, landlord, bank and/or collection agency — or are there better ways to use public resources in order to address this most essential and pressing issue?

Comments are closed.