Affordable housing in the Cayman Islands continues to be a challenge, one that National Housing Development Trust general manager Julio Ramos knows all too well.
The NHDT boss struggles daily to find ways to meet the demand for affordable housing that his agency was created to address.
With 400 applicants seeking to own their own homes, the NHDT boss has said there is only so much he can do.
“How do we do it? We need more support. We can only go as far as where our cashflow is,” he said in a recent interview with the Cayman Compass.
Creating affordable housing has been an issue for years and with the general election now two months out, the question remains what policy will be proposed to help Caymanians realise the dream of owning their own homes.
Ramos said apart from the election, a solution must be found to help make homeownership affordable.
“Regardless of whether we’re months from an election, [the Trust] is basically set up to provide amenities and facilities to help individuals with homeownership. Election can come, election can go, but the demand would always be there. It’s a matter of getting all stakeholders, putting their heads together and saying, well, where’s the will and how much more can we commit to addressing this issue?” he said.
Ramos said as the Trust moves ahead with the housing developments, the list of applications continues to increase, but the agency is limited by available funds.
“We have individuals that have been waiting for two to three years,” he said.
The NHDT, he said, actually undertook the extensive exercise of reviewing applications and reaching out to individuals, asking if they were still interested, and the response has been positive.
“We’re trying to get a true realistic picture as to how many individuals we can cater to,” he said.
At present, the NHDT has 116 houses, all of which are occupied, and there are plans to expand at existing sites and open more developments.
COVID-19 caused delays
Ramos said last year plans had been in place to build more houses in the eastern districts, but they were derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, he said he is optimistic that this year those plans will move ahead.
“COVID has impacted everyone across the board. At the Trust we basically had to take some backseat positions in terms of delaying getting some projects done. That obviously affected the application process,” he said, as well as the assigning of houses to individuals.
“We anticipated that [we’d] have a few completed within a given year. We’ve had to defer that.”
The Trust, he said, could not enter into obligations knowing that there was a hold-up, and everyone was affected over the pandemic period.
However, with things returning to normal, it is full steam ahead.
“We’re basically coming back on board,” he said, adding the Trust was in the housing contract phase for the development in East End. “During [the pandemic] we [did] the work that we could do in terms of earthworks and grading.” However, Ramos noted that where they had cleared enough land for seven properties, the Trust is planning for up to an additional 21 houses.
Ramos said the Trust is at the point of revisiting the contracts for construction supplies due to any effects the pandemic had on the construction industry.
He said the cost of materials has gone up and the Trust will need to take another look at this issue so as “not to set up the contractors to fail”.
Cost of Living
- Million dollar babies: The eye-opening costs of parenting in Cayman
- What does it cost to raise a child in Cayman?
- Editorial: Cayman’s high cost-of-living impacts us all
- Counting the cost of living in the Cayman Islands
- Cayman shoppers pay premium for groceries
- Economist cautions Cayman must address wealth disparity
Housing market prices a deterrent
For young professionals, owning a house is a life goal, but with most starter homes averaging at least $300,000 in the Cayman Islands, and the overall national average close to $1 million, the search for a house can be daunting and frustrating.
Ramos said he understands that frustration because applicants come to him with the hope of getting onto the affordable-housing track, but with limited options available in housing stock he, too, is challenged.
“We are mindful that there are individuals that are not getting that opportunity. For merely two reasons: [one], the developers are not necessarily catering to this demographic of younger individuals or lower income. But we can only do as much as we can with respect to our cash flows. Under the affordable-housing umbrella, we still are basically developing in areas where our land is already cleared and developed, and we’re gradually taking on [more], based on projects,” he said.
The second issue is accessing a mortgage.
While the queue is long, Ramos said he is hopeful more projects will come online after the election to ease the pressure.
Ramos said the Trust is concentrating on its East End development and is looking at breaking ground soon.