Josepha Carter smiles broadly between deep gulps of oxygen from the ventilator that keeps her tethered to her room in the simple home in the back streets of West Bay.
“I pray and pray and I live life to the last day, that is the only thing I can do,” she says.
The fluttering of pigeons roosting in the roof space occasionally interrupts her flow.
“I can’t go to work, I have no money, I cannot go to the bank and steal, I only pray to God help me and the people have a good heart and come and help me.”
Josepha, 60, suffers from diabetes and a lung condition.
When the Compass visited the home – originally part of a government housing development – she was sharing the property with her adult children including her son, who is housebound with a rare medical condition, her daughter, Adonza and her four children.
The house was in a dilapidated condition. The bathrooms were not functioning, the young children shared a single bed, the zinc roof was leaking and the ceiling in need of repair while the electrics needed to be replaced.
The family appeared on ARK’s radar in the aftermath of the COVID pandemic when they sought help with food relief.
Now the charity aims to help them with home improvements to make the house safe.
Despite the circumstances, Josepha remains constantly upbeat.
“She will die with a smile on her face,” says her daughter Adonza.
“I try to keep a cheerful spirit as well. It’s all we can do.”
Since the Compass visited, Adonza and her children have moved out and ARK is reviewing its plans for the home.
Efforts to assist are further complicated by the fact that the property is owned by the National Housing Development Trust.
The scope for the charity, or anyone else, to make improvements to any of the remaining houses at Apple Blossom Gardens is limited and the viability of ARK’s improvement plans was still in doubt at press time.
Properties slated for demolition
Though it has stated it will not evict people from the homes, the housing trust’s stance is that anyone who remains in the properties should leave and seek assistance from the Needs Assessment Unit and the Department of Children and Family Services for alternative housing.
Cayman’s Hidden Housing Crisis
There were originally 69 homes built at the site off Birch Tree Hill Road as part of an island-wide affordable housing project. They were made available to qualifying Caymanian families as “lease to own” and rental properties at extremely low prices.
But the homes have been beset by problems. They were not built to code and have suffered electrical and plumbing issues, among others. Many were damaged in Hurricane Ivan and, despite efforts to salvage some of them, they were ultimately deemed unsafe.
Most of the homes have been demolished but 20 still remain in Apple Blossom Gardens, including the property where Carter and her family live.
Julio Ramos, general manager of the Trust, said anyone still living in the properties had been advised on multiple occasions that they should leave.
“This site continues to be condemned due the dilapidation and continued deterioration of the houses. The Trust has limited its services to only servicing the common area, the septic system, and any maintenance issue that is deemed life-threatening. The occupants of this site have been informed of this and however continue to occupy these houses,” he said in an emailed response to questions from the Compass.
He said the Trust’s stance was that performing routine repairs on the homes would only encourage people to stay there. It plans to demolish the remaining homes as they become vacant.
Ramos said efforts had been made to assess the families that remain in the condemned buildings but he said many of them had “social needs” that went beyond housing and had been unwilling to leave. None of them own the homes, he added.
No current alternatives
Nielsen said ARK was keen to find a solution, particularly for Josepha, who is unable to work and struggles to look after herself because of her health condition.
If feasible, Nielsen said ARK would like to renovate the living space so she has a functioning bathroom and kitchen.
“Based on many years’ experience it is evident that any kind of change or transition for Josepha will take months or even years. ARK has to deal with the current reality and address it as expediently as time and funding will allow,” she said.
“Josepha must have a functioning bathroom, an adequate kitchen and be able to rest in the knowledge that the house is not going to go up in flames from an electrical fire. With electrical and living conditions as serious as those in this residence, we cannot leave Josepha at risk while working towards a long-term solution because the truth is, there is currently no alternative for Josepha – it’s simply that sad.”