If you build it, they will come.
… Well, not necessarily.
Some 16 months after the completion of the National Housing Development Trust’s affordable homes development in Bodden Town, the neighborhood remains eerily quiet. Because it is almost completely empty.
More than 230 people have applied to purchase one of the 20 homes on the site of Sitwell Road. Yet only one of the homes has inhabitants, the family of missing landfill worker Anna Evans, who because they were facing forcible eviction from their previous home on Shedden Road, did not have to go through the normal application process.
The other 19 homes – which are being sold for $105,000 to $120,000 apiece – remain unoccupied. Those searching for reasons why the subdivision (which cost the public purse well in excess of $2 million to build) is 95 percent vacant will run into a “he said, she said” saga that involves bureaucratic delays and suggests a poorly designed overall vision for the project.
The Housing Trust’s managing director, Julio Ramos, says the Trust has approved 12 applications, but no applicants have yet been able to obtain a mortgage. That’s the “he said.”
As for the “she said” part of the equation, here’s what Bodden Town resident Anita Frederick, who applied for a home more than year ago, told the Cayman Compass: “It is nothing but a headache and runaround from National Housing Trust … The homes are there but they are not getting to us … National Housing Trust is not making us know what is going on. We are Bodden Towners, there are people looking [for] homes … We went through the housing process because we thought it would be easier than the bank, but there is no help.”
She launches a final arrow that would pierce any compassionate soul: “We might as well give up.”
Another applicant, Alice Bodden, echoed Ms. Frederick’s despair, saying she applied in 2008, then in 2013 was told to update the application, then later was told there was an issue with an access road, and since has heard nothing more. Ms. Bodden said, “I have kind of given up on getting one of the homes.”
The Housing Trust’s Board of Directors, meanwhile, has been experiencing frustrations of its own. In July, the Board reportedly had seen only 144 of 200 applications for the Bodden Town homes, with at least one board member saying the Housing Trust staff “has not been forthcoming with all the files.”
Board minutes indicate, “Staff need to be taking their job serious as there are constant and multiple mistakes that are made.”
That last statement seems to get to the root of the problem. Affordable housing is a serious issue, in which the government has a serious role to play. Unfortunately, since its inception, the Housing Trust has been anything but serious about it, and too often has been used as a political football, and as a means for individuals to seek their own personal gain.
Providing affordable housing for those who truly need it, and promoting home ownership among those who would most benefit from it, are difficult and complex tasks for any society to accomplish efficiently and fairly, even one with the financial resources of the Cayman Islands.
That being said, the issue with the 19 vacant homes in Bodden Town is anything but complex. The government has used public funds to construct homes for Caymanians who need them. The Housing Trust has fielded more than 10 applications for each one of the available homes.
The math is self-evident. There is no excuse for a single one of those houses to remain without occupants, be they owners, renters or short-term occupants who just need a roof for the night.