Archive for May 28th, 2009

Brac Affordable Housing chair defends record

| 28/05/2009 | 6 Comments

(CNS): As the Sister Islands Affordable Housing Development Corporation (SIAHDC) gets underway with the next phase of the programme on Cayman Brac, Board Chair Andre Scott has defended the corporation against criticism that only four houses were completed in the last four years. He is also encouraging potential candidates to apply for one of the four affordable homes now under construction, which they can do at the new SIAHDC office in Banksville that is staffed by SIAHDC General Manager Todd Eldridge.

SIAHDC, a government-funded non-profit company that manages the programme, has 41 applicants on file who were not successful for the first four homes but Scott said he still wanted to encourage people to apply, since the process does not preclude new applicants. Of those on file, he said some do not qualify, some are pending, while others have improved situations and so could be successful this time round. Success is based on the criteria not when the candidate applied, Scott explained. However, if two candidates are equally eligible, the house would go to the candidate with the earlier submission.

People seeking information about the programme, applicants needing assistance, and candidates wanting to know the status of their form can now seek help at the permanent office in New Plaza, Banksville.

Part of Eldridge’s job is to assist people to fill out and understanding the forms, which are available at all operating post offices and at Brac Executive Services in West End. He will also offer advice to those who don’t qualify for the Affordable Housing Programme but may be eligible for other government assisted housing programmes, such as people who qualify for the Government Guaranteed Home Assisted Mortgage scheme (GGHAM), because they own land and are therefore overqualified for Affordable Housing.

Four homes are under construction (two 3-bedrooms and two 2-bedrooms) by DSS Contractors, and the corporation is hoping to have them complete by early 2010. “There is still a tremendous demand for the West End site,” Scott said. “Right now there are no infrastructure needs at the Watering Place site and there are applicants for this site but they have not qualified.

Despite the criticism from some quarters that so few houses were built, Scott says there are four houses and four families and thinks that however many houses were built, it would not be enough. The UDP left $800,000 in the budget when they were defeated at the polls in 2005, but Scott explained that before the money could be spent, they had to develop process.

Before the corporation could build the houses, the board, which had its first official meeting in January 2006, had to set up the framework to get the programme developed, which was a long process. Initially they focused on the largest need for housing on the Brac, which is Cayman families with children with no land for collateral and no equity, but with the ability to pay a mortgage. They also negotiated with local banks for affordable rates on mortgages, and eventually worked out an arrangement with CNB.

The 8-member volunteer board along with two volunteer consultants, Justin Bodden and Tristan Hydes, also had to develop formal application forms for the selection process. They had to get Crown land vested into the name of the corporation, and also deal with planning, surveying and access issues. The corporation paid for fill for the sites and the road to access the sites, while PWD did the work, and they also had to pay Lands and Survey to parcel the land, Scott noted.

“The challenges we faced, it wouldn’t have mattered which administration was in power at the time,” said Scott.

Initially planned to build homes on both sites and the Watering site is still available for successful applicants. “The site in Watering Place had paved roads and utilities and was available for us to build on. However, after reviewing the application forms, we noticed that the majority of applicants were asking to be placed in the West End site, where there is high land and it is perceived to be safer.” Scott said there was only one successful applicant who originally wanted the Watering Place site but they changed their minds pre-construction.

“Personally, I’d love to see more people re-populate the eastern districts since many families have relocated west and both communities are shrinking, but this is an unbiased process,” Scott said.

The contractor, chosen thought the Central Tenders Committee, was awarded in August 2007, and the board anticipated the first homes would be complete by May 2008. However, due to some issues with the contractor being unable to deliver on time, the homes were not completed until November 2008 – just in time for Hurricane Paloma hit in November.

Still technically owned by the corporation, the four homes were temporarily used to house emergency personnel. Once they left all repairs, which were minimal, were paid for by the corporation. When they were back in pre-hurricane condition, the corporation then finalized all the paperwork for the transfer of the property and they were turned over just before Christmas.

“I’m proud of the board and happy with what we’ve accomplished. We’re moving forward with the process enhanced and it will go a lot smoother from now on,” Scott said.

Once the board was comfortable that SIAHDC had adequately filled the current demand for the niche need they had identified, Scott envisaged that the corporation could branch out into other areas of assisting the community with housing needs, such as repairing homes or constructing small stand-alone units for people who can’t afford loan payments, such as the elderly. Government housing for rent is another possible area. “But we’re not there yet,” he said. “Obviously there is going to be a continuous need for the housing programme, whether to own or rent or to assist.”

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