One family’s battle with foreclosure

Owner featured in BBC documentary gets ready to leave her home of three decades

Emily Seymour surveys the scene from the front porch of her home. - Photo: James Whittaker

Emily Seymour, 67, surveys the scene from the front porch of the home she has owned for 30 years.

Junk cars line the roadway. Washing on the line wafts in the breeze. Her dog, tied to a tree in the front yard, strains against its leash and barks at the sound of visitors approaching.

The home itself is crumbling. Damp has eaten away part of the walls, the roof is leaking, there is black mold everywhere and the ceiling sags ominously in places.

It is not much, but it is home, and the retired postal worker, facing eviction at the end of the month, has mixed feelings about leaving.

At this point, she has given up the battle to save the property off Northward Road, Bodden Town, which she shares with her husband Elvin, 72, her daughter Georgeann Dias and her three grandchildren, twin boys, aged 11, and a 13-year-old girl. The foreclosure of Ms. Seymour’s home is one of more than 300 forced sales in the Cayman Islands in the past five years, the majority of them residential properties.

After falling behind on the mortgage payments for two years, the bank foreclosed on the home and Ms. Seymour and her extended family are desperately searching for a place to rent.

“I wanted to pass this home on to my children and grandchildren and leave them with something, but now we have to start again,” said Ms. Seymour. But the home, partially repaired after Hurricane Ivan, has been slowly eaten away by damp and has become a health hazard. After years of holding on, she is ready to let go.

“We have to leave. I’ll be glad to leave,” she acknowledges, though she fears for the future, with the family still searching for somewhere to rent in the Bodden Town area, with a modest monthly outlay.

Ms. Seymour featured in the BBC’s recent “Trillion Pound Island” documentary as part of a short segment on the pockets of poverty that exist alongside the extreme wealth of the banking industry. Her case was put forward by the filmmakers as an ironic juxtaposition to the riches flowing through the territory and an example of the inadequacy of social services in a country with no direct taxes.

She’s not sure how to feel about how the show, which contained some inaccuracies, presented her or the Cayman Islands.

While navigating the bureaucracy of government’s social services has been a source of frustration, there has been assistance from that sector. The charity Acts of Random Kindness, which exists to assist families with immediate help while they secure government support, has also been there to help in times of serious need.

Tara Nielsen, who runs ARK, believes Ms. Seymour’s story is typical of many families in tough situations in the Cayman Islands. It involves a mixture of bad luck, some bad decisions and a welfare system that is not always efficient or agile enough to respond adequately to those in most immediate need.

The trouble started for Ms. Seymour, who worked for 11 years at the post office and before that at the Wholesome Bakery, when Hurricane Ivan ripped the roof off the home and completely flooded the property in 2004. She had fallen behind on insurance payments because of what she says was an administrative mix-up with the bank, so there was no payout.

She received $15,000 from a government fund to help people with house repairs after the storm. That took care of the roof, but the problems with damp and mold persisted. The kitchen was badly damaged and the interior walls were in a state of disrepair.

She struggled through on her post office salary with some help from ARK, which brought in volunteers from PwC to help fix up the kitchen and deal with some of the worst mold. But after the death of her son Dwayne in a motorcycle accident in Florida in 2007 and her retirement from the post office in 2011, managing the mortgage and the repair costs became more troublesome.

When she was first threatened with eviction in 2014, ARK helped her renegotiate, bringing the monthly payments down to $850 a month from $1,050. She had already refinanced once, in 2002.

It took some advocacy from ARK, but the charity and the family acknowledge that government ultimately did what it could. Ms. Seymour now gets $550 a month in poor relief.

Her husband gets a similar amount from the Ex-Gratia Seaman’s benefit. Ms. Seymour says she also got a lump sum pension payment when she left government and still receives around $150 a month.

Their daughter Georgeann, a mother of three, suffers from diabetes and has been in and out of work but is now bringing in an income from her job at a grocery store.

Even with that assistance, the mortgage has always been a struggle, on top of three kids to feed and utility bills to pay. When the house was flooded again from a leak in the bathroom, it became unmanageable and Ms. Seymour stopped paying the mortgage.

Ms. Nielsen said, “Between Dwayne’s death and Emily’s retirement, things just escalated. Although I wanted Emily’s wish to come true to keep her home, the house is a health hazard. We want them to move out. There is no point fighting for it any more, the battle has been lost.”

Now ARK is looking to get the family set up in a new home. They have until the end of February to find somewhere to live. The charity is asking anyone who can assist, financially or otherwise, to contact Ms. Nielsen on [email protected]

“I hope that Emily can find security again, in a new home that is not a health hazard to her or the grandchildren, that she can finally get the rest she deserves, where she can enjoy the children and not spend her days praying that she can put food on the table, pay her mortgage and utilities,” Ms. Nielsen said. She said Ms. Seymour’s situation is not unique.

“Even someone who has worked hard all their life and done their best for their family can end up in this situation,” she warned.

“There are so many stories where families began their lives in the cycle of poverty, but worked hard and got out of it, providing for their children and [having] an acceptable standard of living, but due to varying circumstances … largely Hurricane Ivan, were hurled back into the nightmare they fought so hard to escape from.”

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  1. This is a very sad story, and I am thinking can someone do a Radio show call in at least two nights a week on Week ends by each of the talk shows while playing music; whereby people are asked to pledge the least is $5.00. to this needed cause This money could then be paid to the bank going towards Mrs Emily’s home. Also can appeal be made to all Contractors on Island to jump in and assist one day a week donated materials and time to repair. I am not going to leave out the Churches, supermarkets, gas stations, and all other businesses to contribute the least 100.00 to the loan or the purchase of materials.
    We must find a way to help this family. They are kind hearted , poor people.
    Anyone who is starting something you are welcome to ask me to assist in what ever way I can. Please email me at [email protected] or call 3243913.