Monday 26 October, 2020

Housing for middle class too expensive while Hyatt sales pass $100 mil

One of the drivers of inequality in a country is access to affordable housing. High rent and a lack of affordable real estate have a real impact on people's lives. Cayman is no exception.

For those who think everyone in Cayman has an exceptionally hight standard of living, consider the fact that the CI Government’s Needs Assessment Unit provided financial support to 2,059 families in 2018, which included rent money for 543 families and utilities to 570.

Now consider the fact that sales of the Grand Hyatt Grand Cayman Residences, which launched construction in December, have exceeded 49 condominiums— more than 60 per cent of the total— bringing sales to more than $100 million, according to Waypoint Real Estate. 

According to real estate firm, Engel & Völkers, Seven Mile Beach market trends indicate an increase of $51 (11%) in the average price per square foot over the past 6 months, at an average of $480 per square foot. For George Town, the real estate firm indicates that there has been an increase of $32 (16%) in the average price per square foot over the past 6 months, at an average of $223 per square foot. 

The story of rents is no different. The average cost of rental accommodation in Cayman has increased by 19.3 percent, as reported by the Economics and Statistics Office Consumer Price Index Report: April to June 2019, since the same quarter of 2018.

According to Expacistan’s cost of living index, the average rent of a 900 square foot space in Cayman is between CI$1,919 and CI$2,763 depending on location.

Housing is a key aspect of the story of inequality in this country, where we are becoming a nation with a dwindling number of the 'housing haves', and many more becoming the 'renting rest'.

What is being done? 

The Honorable Alden McLaughlin, Premier of the Cayman Islands has stated that housing is the largest factor in the rising cost-of-living in the Cayman Islands, in his 2020/21 Budget Policy Statement at the Legislative Assembly in November 2019.

Despite initiatives with the National Housing Development Trust (NHDT), and the Government Guaranteed Home Assisted Mortgage (GGHAM) programme, as well as concessions on stamp duty fees for Caymanians and first-time home-owners, affordable housing for all residents remains a concern.

Minister for Health, Environment, Culture and Housing, Hon. Dwayne Seymour stated: “The significant rise to the cost of living and its effects on residents is a priority that government is working towards finding a solution for.”

Echoing Mr. Seymour’s statement, Minister for Commerce, Planning and Infrastructure, Hon. Joseph Hew added: “The more people spend on housing, the less they spend on goods and services. As our population grows, we have to examine sustainable solutions to avoid a housing bubble, while still being able to grow our economy.”

Both Mr. Hew and Mr. Seymour are spearheading the initiative, and the Strategic Reform Implementations Unit (SRIU), within the Office of the Deputy Governor (ODG), is facilitating the process of finding solutions to these challenges. This process kicked off on 12 February, 2020 with a series of ‘think-tank’ and one-on-one sessions that engaged more than 50 stakeholders. SRIU Senior Advisor Matthew Hylton, shared that the purpose of the sessions “is to engage stakeholders to explore the factors behind the housing challenges, discuss ideas to help alleviate the problem, and suggest solutions towards affordable housing in the Cayman Islands.”

Public sector engagement in the first phase of consultations included representation by key stakeholders including the Needs Assessment Unit, the Department of Children and Family Services and the Department of Planning. Representation from the private sector included those working in construction, development, consulting, utilities, finance, banking, and real estate.

Simon Watson, a partner at chartered surveyors and property consulting firm Charterland, signalled his backing of the think-tank sessions, saying: “We need to look at factors effecting housing issues from all angles in order to best determine a way forward. I am in full support of this great initiative and in helping to find solutions to make housing more affordable.”

After the initial series of think-tank sessions, Mr. Hylton advised that the SRIU will be moving onto the second phase of consultations. This next phase will involve detailed exploration of the key issues and potential solutions, identified in phase one sessions, in order to advance the work required to identify solutions that address the main affordable housing concerns.

The SRIU welcomes input from stakeholders whose work impacts housing, or is impacted by housing and accommodation, and those that would like to be part of the process of finding affordable housing solutions for the Cayman Islands. Interested persons are asked to contact Matthew Hylton at: Matthew.Hylton@gov.ky

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