In response to Blacktip Island’s growing housing shortage, local businesses have launched an affordable housing program benefiting the Caribbean island’s scuba, housekeeping and maintenance staffs.
“Housing’s scarce on the Blacktip,” Eagle Ray Cove divemaster Lee Helm said. “And damned expensive. We’re sleeping two and three people in a one-bedroom place. Playing rock-paper-scissors for who gets the couch.”
“It’s embarrassing, our staff having to live on top of each other like that,” Sandy Bottoms Beach Resort owner Sandy Bottoms, Jr. said. “Resort guests are put off when they hear of it. It reflects badly on us.”
“We’re building lodging for every worker on the island,” Club Scuba Doo owner Nelson Pilchard said. “No one should have to share a couch. Unless they want to.”
The initiative is not without critics, though.
“It’s not about providing housing,” community activist Jerrod Ephesians said. “It’s about collecting more rent from more people. Instead of renting one place to four people, they’re now renting four places.
“The Sandy Bottoms of the island are building these places from junk,” Ephesians said. “It’s a company store-type scam, charging their own employees for glorified camping.”
“Are we building deluxe accommodations? No,” Bottoms said. “But these are dive hippies we’re talking about. Here for the adventure. They love it.”
“We’re experimenting with sustainable building materials,” Eagle Ray Cove resort owner Rich Skerritt added. “Driftwood, bamboo, palm thatching, it’s all natural. And what’s more picturesque than a thatched hut on the beach?”
“My place is nice,” Club Scuba Doo staffer Joey Pompano said. “So long as the weather’s nice, anyway.”
“These places allow our folks to save money,” Scuba Doo’s Pilchard said. “There’s no utility bills, no phone or internet fees, no overheard after rent. I should be so fortunate.”
Other locals are concerned about potential public health issues.
“These places have no garbage pickup, no sewage or septic,” island doctor Lance Tang said. “Any rain will wash their waste into the ground water. And the first big storm surge will push that waste into our back gardens.”
“What everyone’s overlooking is these places are on prime real estate – right on the water, right at the dive sites,” Sandy Bottoms said. “Dive staff can roll out of their hammocks and go straight to work. It saves them commute time and the expense of a vehicle.”
“If this works as well as we think,” Eagle Ray Cove’s Skerritt said, “we have plans for a rustic dive-in, dive-out resort built on this model.”