One of the affordable homes within Bonita Crescent on Cayman Brac.
By Kristel Galimba
The English Poet Thomas Hood once wrote - “All the day’s long toil is past, and each heart is whispering, Home, Home at last.”
Four families in Cayman Brac are experiencing that feeling of “Home at last” thanks to an affordable housing initiative underway at Bonita Crescent, located off Alta Vista Drive on the Brac’s famous bluff.
Situated in one of the safest locations in the Cayman Islands because it is so high above sea level, the site for the Sister Islands Affordable Housing Programme has emerged into a small community with the first four homeowners settling into three-bedroom homes complemented with 1,000 square-feet of space.
What began as an idea to help families achieve home ownership was transformed into a reality after the national election in May 2005. The administration of the People’s Progressive Movement (PPM) invested $800,000 to establish the Sister Islands Affordable Housing Programme (SIAHP) and a separate not-for-profit company (the Sister Islands Affording Housing Development Corporation) was created to manage the programme.
“It certainly makes me happy and proud knowing that families are living there now,” said Sister Islands Member of the Legislative Assembly Moses Kirkconnell. “And it is even going to get better for the children once the playground is completed,” he said.
With an all-volunteer board, SIAHDC is a success story of Brackers helping Brackers.
Board Chairman Andre Scott said, “Being involved with the project was something new to me, as well as to the other board members. We started everything from scratch, but we took it all in stride, because we wanted to implement the vision and make it a reality.”
Though the programme is still in its infancy, Mr Scott said it is continuing to evolve. “We started with just an idea. There was nothing in place. Processes, policies and procedures had to be developed. We were learning as we went along, and we continue to improve,” he said.
Mr Scott further said that a new general manager had been hired, Todd Eldridge, and he was optimistic that more will be done with the presence of a full time employee.
The initial Government investment funded Phase 1 of the development, including site preparation, fill and the actual building of the homes. The selling of the homes, in turn, helps fund construction in the next phase. As each phase provides for the next, the programme is expected to self-perpetuate, providing top-quality, affordable homes for people who are in a position to make loan payments, but would not qualify for a mortgage through traditional processes.
“The diligence of the Committee, and the support and foresight of the PPM Government, has ensured that this project will have a quantifiable impact on the social and economic fabric of Cayman Brac for many years to come,” Mr Kirkconnell said, “Our ultimate goal is to empower people to control their own futures, to give them the tools to improve their standard of living and make a better life for their children and grandchildren.”
Quality Construction, a local construction company, was awarded the contract for the first four homes of Phase 1 by the Central Tenders Committee. The buildings have concrete walls with hurricane straps poured into the belting. According to Quality Construction Owner Whitman Tatum every home will exceed Cayman Islands Government building standards for withstanding hurricanes.
“When we were building, we tried to go above and beyond just meeting the minimum requirements because we thought it was better to do it that way,” said Mr Tatum, who took pride in the fact that he and his crew of five Brackers worked on the project.
With Phase 1 of the programme now complete, four more homes are being constructed and a playground is planned in the near future. Sites for new homes with playgrounds have also been identified in the Cayman Brac Districts of Watering Place and West End. The number of homes at each site is determined by demand, and to date, the majority of the applicants are opting for the elevated location in West End. However, the Committee is also working to accommodate additional locations, such as Spott Bay, in future phases.
SIAHC Committee receives application forms, which they review to decide whether applicants are eligible based on an evaluation of their income.
Determining factors, such as living conditions, number of dependants and whether the applicant is married, are also taken into account by the Committee, and evaluated in conjunction with earnings and the cost of the home.
In order to be objective, the identity of each applicant is only known by one member of the Committee, who completes the criteria form based on the application. The application is then assigned a number, and the full Committee makes a decision based on the information provided on the form. The applicant’s name is not revealed until the selection has been made.
SIAHDC Committee Chairman Andre Scott says they are taking care to complete each stage of construction with strict adherence to the correct procedure to ensure that all checks and balances are properly enforced.
“This means the project is taking a little longer than some people hoped. However, as a result, the Affordable Housing Programme on Cayman Brac has become an ongoing project with very real value to their owners,” he said.
SIAHDC Committee members are Chairman Andre Scott, Deputy Chairman Yvonne Walton, Alva “Billy” Bodden, Sidney “Jackie” Ebanks, Zanda Scott, Nadisha Bodden, Leyda Nicholson-Coe and District Commissioner Ernie Scott. Cayman Brac Planning Officer Andrea Stevens is Committee Secretary.
Justin Bodden, the Assistant Works Manager at Cayman Brac PWD, and Tristan Hydes, Project Manager with the Ministry of District Administration, Planning, Agriculture and Housing, designed the homes’ floor plans.
As the homes are built, Mr Bodden and Mr Hydes conduct frequent onsite inspections to ensure quality construction standards are met.
The homeowners at Bonita Crescent said the sense of security obtained by having their own homes is second to none.
During an interview, one said she especially liked the fact that the homes had three bedrooms. “We’re a young family, and it is nice that we have room to grow.”
Another expressed satisfaction with simply being able to own his very own home – “When you pay rent, your money is gone and you can’t get it back. There’s nothing to show for it. But now, you’re making an investment in something that you can keep, and enjoy, or pass down to your children. It’s an investment in your family’s future.”