(CNS): The housing crisis in the Cayman Islands is driving low-paid foreign workers to live in expensive but still unacceptable slums, with some paying up to $400 a month for a bunk bed in tiny apartments where even kitchens have been turned into bedrooms. The CNS has received several reports of the cramped conditions in which some people live and the shocking prices charged by landlords who take advantage of the massive shortage of affordable housing.
Development entirely focused on the luxury market, a return of foreign workers after the pandemic and the shift of many rental property owners from domestic tenants to the more lucrative Airbnb market as the winter seasons approached which combined to further aggravate an already bad situation and create a crisis for ordinary workers.
There is very little affordable rental housing left on Grand Cayman now, and what there is tends to be in the eastern districts, and even then it usually takes workers sharing to make it affordable. But the level of sharing has now reached worrying levels.
Some landlords are converting their properties from one- and two-bedroom apartments to bunk rooms, even removing stoves and refrigerators to fit in more beds. The CNS has heard reports of people living in a single room where landlords have placed three or four bunk beds, side by side, and charge each person between $300 and $450 per month for a slot in a bunk bed.
The men have to share a bathroom, not only with those in their bedroom, but also with the six to eight other people who sleep in the living room, which has also been converted into a bunk bed dormitory.
According to a senior compliance official at WORC, accommodation information is always collected on all work permit applications to ensure that the potential employee has a place of residence upon arrival or when renewing an application .
“However, it is not practical during the initial submission of each WORC application to verify that the accommodation listed is suitable,” the official told CNS in response to our inquiries. “Determining suitability would also require assessment by other departments.”
The official explained that if the WORC receives a complaint about a work permit holder’s substandard living conditions, it will carry out initial investigations and, if necessary, report the matter to the planning department and to other relevant government departments to carry out necessary inspections and investigations.
But few people living in unsuitable conditions are willing to report the reality of their situation because they want to keep their license. Despite expensive and uncomfortable housing, often lacking kitchen facilities and shared bathrooms with dozens of people, some low-wage workers are willing to endure hardship to send whatever money they can back home, where their incomes have considerable purchasing power and can support their families.
The issue is having a ripple effect on the wider community, with neighbors complaining about increased litter due to several people living in small units designed for a maximum of two people. People complain about disposable food containers mounted outside buildings and rooms because workers have nowhere to cook and are forced to eat takeout.
Labor Minister Chris Saunders said automating the work permit system will help law enforcement teams track where workers are crammed into properties. He told CNS that applicants are required to provide the block and plot number of where the permit holder will live.
He explained that once the system is automated, this information will need to be uploaded before an application is reviewed and a permit granted. A red flag will be raised when a block and plot number appears to have an excessive number of permit applicants connected to it, which will help to clamp down on this practice of creating unofficial roosts.
Saunders said the housing situation is reaching a crisis, but the PACT government has formed a task force which is focusing on solutions to the problem.
The lack of suitable housing also has a particular impact on employers, especially in the tourism and construction sectors, where wages, although they have increased slightly, do not keep pace with rents, which aggravates the shortage of workers. As a result, some companies are considering setting up their own official dormitories for workers and even building staff quarters.
In a recent report in the Cayman Compass, a restaurant owner complained that the planning did not provide for the dormitory accommodation they had planned. “There is no place for dormitory-type accommodation in planning laws,” he said, explaining that he would like to put 15 rooms on the site and provide simple subsidized accommodation for staff. .
At last week’s CITA meeting, the issue of housing was raised by members facing the same issue. Outgoing President Marc Langevin has called for a reliable bus system, with buses running at night, to allow tourism workers to live further out in the eastern districts, where rents are more affordable. He said that without a car, it’s not possible to work overnight at Seven Mile Beach and then drive back to Bodden Town.
The government has taken note of the general problems with affordable housing and has rolled out a number of long-term ideas and is helping residents buy their own homes through a number of programs. But so far he has not presented any immediate solutions to the rental housing shortage.
As a result, more and more landlords are taking advantage of poorly paid workers and renting them beds in cramped and miserable conditions in windowless rooms shared with dozens of other workers.
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