Cayman’s National Housing Development Trust is facing a two-fold problem with newer affordable homes that have remained unoccupied for years and older, dilapidated homes that remain occupied despite being condemned.
Trust General Manager Julio Ramos appeared before the Legislative Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee last week to update lawmakers on both issues.
“Why have some of the [newer] affordable homes not been inhabited to date?” George Town MLA Winston Connolly asked during the hearing.
Mr. Ramos said there were unoccupied houses among those most recently constructed by the trust under the former United Democratic Party government in 2012, in three of the four Grand Cayman districts in which they were built.
By far, the largest number of unoccupied homes was in Bodden Town, where 16 of the 20 affordable homes stood empty as of last week. However, in West Bay, Mr. Ramos said, eight of the 36 newer affordable homes were unoccupied; in East End, three of the 12 were unoccupied.
All 26 affordable homes in the George Town area were still occupied, Mr. Ramos said, although he noted that in East End and George Town, some of the affordable homes were still “transitioning” from a rental arrangement to ownership. The housing trust earlier ruled that no more affordable homes would be rented out by the government.
A separate dilapidated housing development in West Bay, consisting of 30 homes built prior to 2004’s Hurricane Ivan, had 23 homes occupied as of last week. Meanwhile, more than 200 applications have been received by the housing trust for the now empty affordable homes in Bodden Town.
Mr. Ramos told lawmakers that it was not as simple a matter as moving the residents in the West Bay homes to available housing in the newer 2012 homes or even a matter of picking random people to live in the empty Bodden Town homes.
“They are subject to the credit criteria set up by the banks. There is difficulty with these individuals coming up with the down payment,” Mr. Ramos said. ”If you’re an employee of the government, you can’t use your pensions … for the down payment.”
Government does not guarantee loans for the newer affordable housing structures, which consist of one-, two- and three-bedroom structures. It will exempt the purchasers from stamp duty and has already subsidized the cost of constructing the residences, Mr. Ramos said.
First-time home owners who earn $30,000 or less, or a couple earning $45,000 or less per year, can apply to the housing trust for an affordable home. If approved by the trust’s board, applicants then must apply to a bank for a traditional mortgage.
With regard to the older, dilapidated homes in West Bay, Mr. Ramos said financial considerations are not the only difficulty. Some families have “social issues” that were preventing them from moving over to the newer homes.
In the meantime, basic maintenance issues in the West Bay pre-Ivan development are left unaddressed.
Mr. Ramos said in December that the occupants who remained there continue to complain about the dilapidation of the houses, including water seepage due to rain, and other issues. However, the housing trust is limited to dealing with septic services and other “common area” maintenance.
“We’re basically telling them it is not safe,” Mr. Ramos said. “Apart from that, unfortunately, there’s not much we can do.”