Housing crisis leaves workers in costly, cramped conditions

| 28/10/2022 | 124 Comments

(CNS): The housing crisis in the Cayman Islands is leading to overseas low-paid workers living in costly but nevertheless unacceptable slum conditions, with some paying as much as $400 per month for a bunkbed in tiny apartments where even kitchens have been converted into bedrooms. CNS has received several reports about the cramped conditions some people are living in and the shocking prices being charged by landlords who are taking advantage of the massive shortage of affordable accommodation.

Development focused entirely on the luxury market, a return of foreign workers post-pandemic and a switch by many rental property owners from domestic tenants to the more lucrative Airbnb market as the winter seasons approaches have combined to make an already bad situation even worse and created a crisis for ordinary workers.

There is very little affordable rental accommodation left on Grand Cayman now, and what there is tends to be in the Eastern Districts, and even then it usually requires workers to share to make it affordable. But the level of sharing has now reached disturbing levels.

Some landlords are converting their properties from one- and two-bedroom apartments into rooms with bunk beds, even taking out cookers and fridges to put in more beds. CNS has heard reports of people living in a single bedroom where landlords have placed three or four bunk beds, side by side, and are charging each person anywhere from $300-450 per month for a slot in a bunk bed.

The men must share a bathroom, not just with those in their bedroom but the other six to eight 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, information about accommodation is still collected on all work permit applications to ensure that the prospective employee has a place to reside when arriving or when an application is renewed.

“However, it is not practical upon initial submission of every application for WORC 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 government departments.”

The official explained that if WORC receives a complaint about substandard living conditions of any work permit holder, it will make initial inquiries and, if applicable, report the matter to the planning department and other relevant government departments in order to carry out any necessary inspections and investigations.

But few people living in unsuitable conditions are willing to report the reality of their circumstances because they want to retain their permits. Despite the costly and uncomfortable accommodation, often with no cooking facilities and bathrooms shared with dozens of people, some low-paid workers are prepared to endure the hardship in order to send whatever money they can home, where their earnings have considerable buying power and can support their families.

The problem is having a knock-on effect on the wider community, with neighbours complaining about the increased garbage due to multiple people living in small units designed for no more than two people. People are complaining of disposable food containers mounting outside apartment blocks and rooms because workers have nowhere to cook and are forced to eat take-out food.

Labour Minister Chris Saunders has said that the automation of the work permit system will help enforcement teams spot where workers are being crammed into properties. He told CNS that applicants are required to state the block and parcel number for the place where a permit holder will be living.

He explained that once the system is automated, that information will need to be uploaded before an application is considered and a permit is granted. A red flag will be raised when one block and parcel number appears to have an excessive number of permit applicants connected to it, which will help crack down on this practice of creating unofficial dormitories.

Saunders said that the housing situation is reaching a crisis, but the PACT Government has formed a task force that is focused on solutions to the problem.

The lack of suitable accommodation is having a particular impact on employers, too, especially in the tourism and construction sectors, where wages, though they have increased marginally, are not keeping pace with rents, which is adding to the shortage of workers. As a result, some businesses are considering creating their own official workers’ dormitories and even building staff houses.

In a recent report in the Cayman Compass, one restaurant owner complained that planning doesn’t provide for the dormitory accommodation they had planned. “There is no scope for dormitory-style accommodation in the planning laws,” he said, explaining that he would like to put 15 rooms on the site and offer simple subsidised housing to staff.

During last week’s CITA meeting, the issue of housing was raised by members who are facing the same problem. Outgoing president Marc Langevin has called for the provision of a reliable bus system, with buses running at night, to enable 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 nights on Seven Mile Beach and then get home to Bodden Town.

The government has noted the broad problems with affordable housing and has rolled out a number of long-term ideas and is supporting local people to buy their own homes with a number of schemes. But so far it has not presented any immediate solutions to the shortage of rental accommodation.

As a result, more landlords are taking advantage of low-paid workers and renting them beds in cramped, wretched conditions in windowless rooms shared with dozens of other workers.

To make an anonymous formal complaint to WORC about any breach of immigration law, including exploitation, complete the online form on the WORC website
or send an email to worccomplaints@gov.ky

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Comments (124)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Implementation of a mandatory living wage in all sectors of employment would be a step in the right direction. If employers had to ensure that permit workers received a living wage things would change. None of the cowards and successive governments we have thus far elected have possessed the scrotal fortitude to even mention implementation of a living wage.

  2. Anonymous says:

    It is not only imported workers that are suffering, far far more importantly, Caymanians are being severely impacted by the shortage of rental units and the exorbitant cost of rent.
    The article says in regard to the work permit system: “A red flag will be raised when one block and parcel number appears to have an excessive number of permit applicants connected to it, which will help crack down on this practice of creating unofficial dormitories.” One problem I see is that there must be some set and known criteria as to the allowable occupant density of worker accommodations. What number is “excessive”? Who determines what is excessive and what is not? Absent maximum allowable occupant density data being available and known to applicants, the decision is left to the caprice of the board. Ok, Panton-PACTless, the ball is now in your court.

  3. Truth says:

    These people are working their own way from poverty(Where they are) to a comfortable life where they want to be just like many of us have done. Same all over the world. Please let them alone. They are not fed and housed by CIG like voters are. Go after the terrible land lords who charge to much for too little. (But they are voters so forget that right?)

    • That’s It says:

      All large scale hotel / Resort developers should have been snd today should be required to build out accommodations for staff . This expenditure would be part of the total project cost . These facilities need to be managed snd maintained by the Resort/ Management who would be better placed to manage the employees time at work and productivity.

      If we don’t insist on this in future developments dog eat our supper.

      To the present problem, the Tedorts/Hotels should have to be responsible for the comfortable living space of their employee paying the rent directly to the Landlords, vetting the type of accommodation while ensuring adequate lease contractual terms. Accommodation for approved work permits must be revised and contracts signed prior to the arrival of employee(s),

      At the end of the day the workers are part of the developed property infrastructure and as with the physical aspects need to be maintained at a am above average standard of living.

      If they can’t handle this aspect then no permits to be granted period!!

  4. Anonymous says:

    The same thing is happening in Dubai. What we see about Dubai in the media is not the reality of what the common person actually goes through there. Outside of the main city, there are slums where people live in outrageous conditions. And what we have in common with Dubai is that most of these slums, or low-income areas, are filled with foreign workers who are making dust. Cayman manages to hide this well, you never really see these areas, but they’re there, especially in the center of Town. The contrast between the rich and poor is stark here. It must be resolved before it gets worse.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Does everyone realize that the scum landlords who pack these sub-par, below standard rental accommodations full of the underprivileged are all….Caymanian! Caymankind at its finest. Treating other humans like they’re not worthy of dignity all to worship their true god, the almighty dollar. Shame on all of them.

    • Anonymous says:

      Wow, you have managed to insult everyone. Do you prefer them to live in a tent?

    • Anonymous says:

      Yeah “New” Caymanians ! Serves us right though for cheapening our citizenship.

    • Anonymous says:

      What you have lost sight of 11:28 is the root of the problem. The people who allow scum landlords to pack sub-par, below standard rental accommodations full of the underprivileged and treat them like they’re not worthy of human dignity, are all Caymanian: the government and voters of the Cayman Islands.
      The only condition that must be present for evil to thrive is for good people to do nothing. So far, neither the Panton-PACTless Clown Car, nor the former Alden McLaughable government, have cared enough to address this issue head on.

  6. BlowFish says:

    This is not a work permit ezpat issue, Its a housing crisis fueled by greed that includes Caymanians that cannot find affordable housing. Put controls on the short term rental properties quick dollar Airbnb’s. Not all properties should be allowed to rent as vacation rentals and should be strictly enforced. And rent controls.. a Landlord Tenancy Act needs to be in place where landlords cannot increase the rent hundreds of dollars overnight or get out! This is not a new issue just another one swept under the dirty carpet where many Caymanians cannot afford to live in their own country.

    • Anonymous says:

      This is EXACTLY a work permit/expat issue. It is a long foreseen and obvious consequence of the ongoing mass importation of poverty at below living wages.

      • Anonymous says:

        The private sector will not develop low income housing because there is no rewards in it.
        Governments have to provide this kind of housing because they have access to cheap land and can arrange reductions in import duties.

        • Anonymous says:

          No. The answer is, as with most things, in the Immigration Act. It requires that the authorities be satisfied as to the remuneration of roles INDEPENDENT of minimum wage AND the suitability of housing.

          Massive fail on both counts.

    • Ryan says:

      Let’s face it: this is exploitation, and it happens in all rich countries. Here’s the deal: come to Cayman without any rights and no hope for residency, live in squalor, do the menial
      work that no else will, and we know you can’t complain because even sending $100CI back to the Philippines every month makes you a hero.

      And we’re all complicit in it because we want cheap and fast services and goods which requires hordes of low paid, exploited workers.

      • Anonymous says:

        Yes 1:56!
        If Caymanians want to see the root of (and solution to) almost all of our problems we need do no more than take a look in the mirror.

    • Anonymous says:

      While it is not exclusively an expat/work permit issue, the work permit issue certainly comes into play. Putting a prudently formulated hard cap on immigration would certainly be step in the right direction, and would help to alleviate many issues: housing scarcity, over-development, traffic congestion, increasing crime, to name a few. FYI: Not “all properties” are allowed to rent as vacation rentals. The regulations and inspection criteria the DOT have in place to issue a license for a property to operate as a tourist accommodation are quite exacting and are strictly enforced. Perhaps a moratorium on the grant of new licenses should be considered until the housing issue is under effective control. Temporary rent control strictly indexing rent increases to the proportional increase in inflation, mortgage rates, and cost of living, is another viable option. Landlords cannot be expected to absorb such increases.
      Bottom line is this: If Caymanians cannot afford to live in our own country, it is our own damn fault! We, collectively have the power to make changes–the power of the vote. But we have a blighted history of squandering that power. An old Caymanian adage my dear mother often said: “Willful waste leads to woeful want.” We wasted our votes and are now left wanting. Time to wake TF up people!

  7. Anonymous says:

    I had to move last year as my Generational Caymanian 4 generation on her mama side, and 6 generation on her daddy side … yes that was the constant reminder whenever I complained … wanted to raise my rent by 50%.

    I had reason to go by there recently, she now has converted the two units into dorms, with 8 adults now in my former two-bedroom unit and 5 in the one-bedroom unit next door …

  8. Anonymous says:

    Where is the cross check on work permits accommodation form. This problem is created by worc who doesn’t follow up on a process in place for over 20 years or more. When dozens of persons use the same address. It should kick up the red flag.
    But wait let’s get a committee around this to decide how many can stay in one room.

    • Anonymous says:

      WORC is working on it, they just need to get the fingerprint scanning from 2010 up and running first along with the National ID.

    • Anonymous says:

      Formulating and legislating clear and concise occupancy density in order to decide how many can stay in a given property must be done! How else can allowable occupancy be a part of the work permit process? It cannot simply be left up to the discretion of pencil pushers or the board. This board discretion BS is one reason the Cayman Islands is going to hell in a hand basket. Kisses go by favours in the Cayman Islands. That has to stop!

  9. Anonymous says:

    Blah, blah, blah.
    If people on work permit don’t like their living conditions here – then go back to where you came from.
    Go and visit some of the places these people come from, especially those from the southeast asia area where people live in shanties, dirt floors, raw sewage run along street culverts, no hot water, no yard space.

    If you expect to keep a minimum wage of $6 per hour – what the hell do you expect? You will continue to attract workers from third world type living conditions – as Caymanians simply are not going to work for slave wages.

    Again, blah, blah blah. Work permit holders are only here because of Caymanian businesses and people. Domestic helpers, yard people, store clerks, delivery drivers, etc etc.

    I don’t hear Caymanian businesses and people complaining about all of this.

    Hmnn Government looking into it? Blah, blah, blah.

    • Beaumont Zodecloun says:

      Your opinion was apparently not popular, however I am in agreement with much of it.

      I know that we’re all struggling, but I think an increase of the minimum wage such that Caymanians can live off the wages would assuage much of this.

      I don’t blame the expats — they are ALL requested by Caymanians, and just trying to make their way. People should never be forced to live in squalor or cramped quarters to survive.

      It doesn’t matter the standard from which people come here; WE should not allow anyone to live in substandard conditions.

      I feel strongly that if the minimum wage were raised, that our unemployment would go way down, leaving only those able-bodied folk who are just unwilling to work to better themselves. Right now, a resident/Caymanian cannot live on $6/hour, and there is zero incentive for them to get off the NAU dole.


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