Purpose built ‘tiny homes’ could be part of the solution to finding shelter for families in crisis, charity Acts of Random Kindness believes.
The non-profit has a growing waiting list of families needing urgent repairs to make their homes secure.
Hundreds, if not thousands, of people in Cayman are living in buildings that are riddled with mould, have leaking roofs or lack access to power and water, says charity founder Tara Nielsen.
In some cases, the homes are too rundown to repair.
Now, with a new injection of funding from the community, ARK is attempting to build durable low-cost homes from scratch that can be placed anywhere on the island.
The first project, which Nielsen hopes could become a template for housing relief, is under way in Bodden Town.
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Stephen and Janice Trusty live in a small wooden home – converted from an old prefab office building – in the shade of a grove of mango trees off Frenchman’s Drive in Frank Sound.
The house lacks proper plumbing, the timber walls are rotting and mosquitos, scorpions and tree frogs have made themselves at home. The conditions are less than ideal, especially for Stephen, who has serious health issues.
In this case, says Nielsen, the damp and rot in the structure were too severe to invest in renovating the original home.
The Trustys own the land outright and so it was easier to plan a new structure.
With the help of an architect, who worked for free, a 500-square-foot home has been designed, and the planning and approvals process is under way.
“We’re hoping to break ground in the next couple of weeks,” said Nielsen.
“It is our first new build and we are super excited. It is a vision we have had for many years.”
The cost of the project is estimated at just over $80,000 but with much of the labour and some of the materials donated, ARK expects to be able to reduce that to around $50,000, which will be covered by the charity.
Over time, she believes they can refine the design and bring the cost down further. With a significant cash injection or government partnership, she believes economies of scale could be achieved to mass produce tiny homes at a much cheaper rate.
The Trusty house will be fairly modest with a small porch.
“It’s small and simple and clean. And it’s going to be pretty resistant to storms,” said Nielsen.
Janice said the couple were happy despite their struggles. But she is looking forward to living in a more comfortable home.
“I think it’s just gonna be a simple house. It will be a joy.”
The same design will be replicated for another home in George Town.
Marva Bodden, now in her 70s, lived her whole life in the simple house on Diaz Lane that her father built with the money he made as a shoemaker in the 1940s.
But she was left homeless after an electrical fire last year. The Needs Assessment Unit funded temporary accommodation for 12 months and ARK is aiming to build a new property on the site.
“My prayer is that through the kind generosity of our community, I will be in my home by Christmas,” Marva said in a message submitted to the Compass.
Bodden’s situation highlights a common issue in Cayman that is both a disadvantage and an asset for many families.
A lot of homes were built in the early 20th century, before modern planning codes and at a time when wealth and resources were scarce. Through the generations they have been repaired, extended and rebuilt.
“We have been renovating houses that go back to the ‘30s,” said Nielsen.
“A lot of these homes are on land that has been passed down for generations and it doesn’t make a lot of sense sometimes to renovate. The damage is just too extreme.”
A scalable concept
The tiny-homes concept takes advantage of what is – in some cases – the only asset the family has: the land. Building a new home on site means they can stay in their historic neighbourhood and avoid the cost of rent.
Owning land is currently a prerequisite for the tiny-home idea to be workable. But ARK believes that there are hundreds of families in that position, who would benefit from being housed in entirely new structures on their own properties.
“I’m hoping that it’s going to be a cookie-cutter concept and we can punch them out over time. But it just depends on funding,” she said.
“This home we are building for Stephen and Janice is the first one and we have a lot to learn, but if we can get this built for $50,000 then we can go out and get funding and try to replicate it.”
Longer term, she said, the charity hopes to be donated some land to build affordable housing for many more people who need it.
Many more in need
Osbourne Bodden, a former government minister, brought the Trustys’ case to ARK in the first place. He said he was pleased to see the progress on the home and is hopeful that the project could be replicated on a larger scale.
He said it was “unacceptable” for families to be living in unfit conditions in the midst of the vast wealth in the Cayman Islands, adding that the Trusty home was a “very worthy cause” but they are just one among many.
“We have too much of this, sadly, in our community. We have so much need for good housing for our young people, for those who are less fortunate and just for people in general,” he said.
“Amidst all of the affluence, we have these pockets of serious need. We paint a glossy picture of Cayman, but there’s cancer within and unless we arrest that cancer, we are gonna have a problem.”
Bodden said housing issues and poverty, in general, were linked to a whole host of other problems in the community, from poor educational outcomes to crime.
Government’s two main housing programmes, the National Housing Development Trust and the Housing Repairs Assistance Programme, are expected to receive more funding in the next budget. Housing was earmarked as a concern in PACT’s Strategic Policy Statement.
Though he was not elected himself, Bodden ran as part of Premier Wayne Panton’s ‘Community Creates Country’ platform. He believes housing is an issue to which the new government will pay serious attention.
He said ARK was doing its part, with the help of donors, but the scale of the problem is now so large that a major partnership between government and the private sector may be needed.
“The volume of these (tiny homes) can’t fix the problem that we have, we can’t spit these out fast enough.”
He said government may need to seek land for its own project or fund the ARK template on a larger scale.
“I think it is a much bigger programme. ARK is gonna play its part at all times, they do fantastic work in the community.
But you’re going to have to find a programme that’s going to encapsulate all of this and look at it island-wide and not just piecemeal.”
Looking to the future
For Stephen and Janice Trusty, it’s a special feeling to be the first recipients of a programme that could eventually benefit hundreds of people in Cayman.
Stephen said the living conditions for the couple right now made it hard to cope.
“Other than that, we are happy and, if we can get a little extra hand, we will be more happy and joyful.”
He said he hopes to be well enough to lend his labour to the next ARK project.
“I hope they can do the same for other people. I need a little hand to get better and I can come round with you guys and help. I would like to see everybody that is struggling right now with a nice little home.”