Understanding the housing crisis

The true cause of the housing crisis that has loomed over the last few years is very much to do with demand outstretching supply.  Quite unfortunately, each year more expat workers are welcomed to the island and each year’s new housing developments fail to meet the needs of the influx, thus driving up monthly rentals.  While much is being done to build new housing for Bermudians, the sad reality is that we don’t need to build more housing for Bermudians, we need to build more geared towards the increasing numbers of expats so that Bermudian homes are more likely left to Bermudians.

Population increases

According to the list of Facts & Figures for 2006, which is listed on the statistics portion of the gov.bm website, there were 29,200 residential dwelling units in 2005.  Though the 2000 Census places the average room per dwelling at 2.5 rooms, today that would equal more rooms then there are people on the island and given the housing shortage that likely is not the case.  Assuming instead an average of 2 bedrooms per dwelling, that leaves 58400 rooms overall, which makes for a good guestimate to use for calculations sake.

Taking 58400 rooms, our 2006 population of 65,773 according to the CIA World Factbook and assuming a simple calculation of persons per room for arguments sake works out to 1.12 rooms per person which will be used as a benchmark in calculations below.

Housing supply

From the 2007 Budget:

The 16-unit Anchorage Villas and 8-unit Butterfield Lane developments were completed last year and tenants are in the process of moving into their new homes.

New housing initiatives commencing this year include the delayed 100-unit Harbour
View Village at Southside, the 38-unit Perimeter Lane development, the 54-unit Westcott
Road development at Southside, the 24-unit Ewing Street mixed use development, the
100-unit affordable housing complex at Ireland Island.
Government has introduced a programme of providing ‘geared to income’ housing at
the 12-unit Butterfield Lane development.

Side note:  are these 12 Butterfield Lane units an addition of 12 or an addition of 4 to the 8 units mentioned above for completed already for Butterfield Lane?

The 38-unit Perimeter Lane development 31 and the 100-unit Ireland Island complex will also provide ‘geared to income’ housing. Additionally, there are several public-private partnership developments in various stages
of discussion that will come online this year.

Of the first 200 properties identified [Through the vacant and derelict homes plan of the 2006 throne speech]  -25 have been initially targeted and action on these will commence this year.

By my count, that is at least 24 homes added last year, 316 homes planned and at least 25 derelict homes targeted for renovation.  In total that is some 341 homes that will have been added to the supply through the next year.

Housing Waiting List

The 583 people on the housing waiting list at 1.12 persons per room works out to 520 rooms required.  Given that this number is updated as of 2007, that means supply is short of demand by at least that much.

Government will have 341 homes that will have been added to the pool totaling some 682 rooms at an approximated 2 rooms per dwelling.


The X Factor  (Expats)

From the 2007 Budget:

The overall number of jobs in the economy was provisionally placed at 39,611 in 2006, reflecting a net addition of 664 jobs across the entire economy. Bermudians held 27,316 of these jobs or 7 out of every 10 jobs in our economy.

From the 2006 Budget:

The overall number of jobs in the economy was provisionally placed at 38,815 in 2005, reflecting a net addition of 452 jobs across the entire economy. Bermudians held 27,219 of these jobs or 7 out of every 10 jobs in our economy.

While the budget states that there are 664 more jobs, the difference between the estimates is actually 796.  Comparing the number of Bermudian jobs, there was an increase in 97.  By simple subtraction that means there were anywhere from 567 to 699 ex-patriot jobs added last year alone.

if only 14.6% of new jobs on the island last year were held by Bermudians and a comparable percentage were applied to the 452 listed in the 2004/05 budget, that results in an estimate of only some 66 jobs added for Bermudians and potentially 386 added jobs that required foreign workers.

Thats an average of more then 540 new expats arriving each of the last two years.  What happens if this year is like the last two?  At the same 1.12 people per room estimate above, that is more then 480 rooms that will be needed, or 240 dwellings.

Supply vs. Demand

Going on the 520 rooms estimated to satisfy the housing waiting list, and the 480 rooms needed for growth in ex-pats, that amounts to 1000 new rooms or some 500 new homes that will be needed.  It will be a gamble as to whether private sector development will make up for the 159 homes needed to be built to reach a break even point.

Another major question is what about all of those who arn’t on the BHC waiting list who would still like a place to themselves, such as the youth?  For the moment they have some form of housing but will have to wait before they can expect to be able to affordably move out on their own.

If those 159 homes are not developed, that will mean that supply will only match just over 92% of the demand.  Given the rise in rental prices, it is not unreasonable to consider that the average price per room presently lies at around $2000 a month (estimated by watching rental offerings over the past months on e-moo) in rental fees.  If demand outstreches supply by some 8%, can we expect that rents shall continue to rise comparably by 8%?  (I’m no economist, so if you’ve got better numbers, feel free to offer a correction)

Every year that demand outstreches supply the rental market is inflated (as it has been for years now).  Only when supply begins to outstretch demand will the rental market begin to deflate.  If demand matches supply the existing rental market will remain at it’s inflated value.  This is why it is critical that the market be flooded with enough supply to saturate and begin a deflationary trend to bring housing prices back down.

Housing is a fundamental need of every individual and it’s high cost directly impacts cost of living for every individual which in turn impacts every industry and resource that relies on the work of people to survive.  A great example is construction. Building new homes costs more because construction workers cost more to house which means you have to pay them more.  Same goes with Policing and even things like buying groceries.  Because workers cost more, those costs have to be passed on to consumers.  As long as demand is allowed to outstretch supply we will witness a snowballing effect on every single facet of our society that relies on housing, which is very wide reaching.


Why housing for ex-pats?

The Labour Market Indicators summary posted by the department of statistics pegs the average annual income for Bermudians in 2005 at $45,559.  Non-Bermudian spouses were pegged at $56,426, Perminant Residents making $48,499 and all other non-Bermudians at $58,315.

The reality of ex-patriots vs. Bermudians is that in many cases, ex-patriots have a greater combined budget then Bermudian families.  Each expat can afford to spend $1500 to $2000 a month per room due to their higher average salaries, while for your average Bermudian, this is not the case.  A Bermudian family simply cannot compete with 3 expats splitting a home at $1500-2000 each a month.

Because Bermudians are less likely to earn as much as ex-patriots due to numerous factors (experience, education, etc), Bermudians are least likely to be able to fend off bidding wars for apartments due to their lower average incomes.

The supply of Bermudian homes will continue to be eaten up by ‘housesharing’ expats who when combining their ability to split rents can vastly outspend Bermudian families.  What is needed is adequate legislative changes and support/incentives for proper apartment buildings to be built in town.  While many Bermudians would not want to live in such housing, apartment buildings are ideal for many single expats as they would live close enough to work to not require cars and are typically more used to urban style living then Bermudians are.

Government desperately needs to take action to increase housing supply especially for ex-pats as this will cause a reduction in the strain on homes for Bermudians.

This can take the form of government

  • subsudizing the construction of apartment buildings.
  • bring in foreign labour to begin development of apartment buildings en-mass (unfortunate to require foreign labour, but it’s one means to quickly increase supply and reverse the trend).  As per my proposal in the Bermuda Sun last year, potentially house the workers in cruise ships temporarily to cut the impact of costs of housing workers.
  • revise the building height limits (there is evidence that this is taking place in Hamilton with recent projects exceeding the 7 storey limit)
  • introduce zoning requirements that include a percentage of housing to be built along with any office space (at present office space is much cheaper to build and given it’s high demand it is often the choice developers make)

Agree?  Don’t agree?  I’m happy to hear your thoughts for I don’t have all the answers, but together we might.

2 thoughts on “Understanding the housing crisis

  1. A great piece. Outstanding job of analysis and coming up with ways to possibly solve the housing crisis. Apartment residences should work for both single locals and for expats.
    I think the zoning proposal you mention regarding office/residential space has merit and should be strongly considered; the only housing development I see in town right now is the luxury condos on the corner of Dundonald and Cedar Ave; everything else is purely office space.
    Admittedly, it would be hard to encourage private citizen developers to build these but that’s where your suggestion of government subsidizing comes into play.
    I’d like to see a town hall meeting or the like where ideas on housing can be hashed out in a public arena, actually.

  2. Tryangle,
    Thank you for your kind comments.
    I think we could see a balance of the zoning suggestion and the removal of the height restriction to kill two birds with one stone.
    Perhaps any buildings breaching the 7 storey limit must have those additional storey’s as apartments. Perhaps offering a subsudy should the building have underground parking.
    Thus, a 10 storey building would be comprised of:
    2 stories of underground parking
    Ground floor of retail space (presently mandated)
    6 stories office space
    3 stories residential
    How this would entice private developers is that it is cheaper to distribute the costs of building the higher you are able to go up. Thus, any developers wishing to develop over 7 stories would need to incorporate apartments.
    Decreased tax incentives could be offered for those buildings that are built that incorporate more housing and increased tax disincentives could be offered for those buildings that don’t meet zoning guidelines.
    I like your suggestion of a town hall meeting and it may be just what we need to solve housing.
    I’m going to give some thought as to how it could be achieved. I’d welcome your input if you’ve got any suggestions.

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