The “affordable urban living” delusion

The 7 Park Road development is a perfect illustration of the delusion that clouds our society.  It is billed as “affordable urban living” and yet shows all the hallmarks of waste and excess that push prices up and make it anything but affordable.  It demonstrates why cost of living is out of control and why we struggle to recover our economy.  It is of little doubt that the developers and architects mean well but they simply are so disconnected from the reality of the needs of affordable living that it is truly saddening.

Here’s a sample floorplan for a C type unit of 793 square feet.

It features:

  • Two bathrooms, one featuring a bathtub
  • A “walk in” closet that you have to walk through to get to one of the bathrooms
  • A massive kitchen with dishwasher, double sink and bar style seating
  • A massive living/diving area
  • A massive balcony

Who honestly is the target audience of this apartment?  Certainly it must target people with money to waste and is more deserving of the misguided “executive” label than “affordable”.  Too many people think that there are an abundance of people with money to waste. There was a long trend where nearly every one bedroom apartment listed on e-moo was listed as an “executive apartment” for ridiculous rates.  It’s sadly delusional.

Let’s step back for a minute, skip the executive delusion and assume something more realistic. Let’s assume the target audience is young single professionals, both Bermudian and expat, who would either rent or buy.

First off, most working young professionals spend a great deal of time in the office, often working late into the evening and then hoping to either relax or go out and do something after work.  While personally I love to cook, most young professionals don’t have time to do a lot of cooking.  A massive kitchen is an excess that adds a lot of expense for something that would be underused.  It’s an unnecessary means to push up the price and make the unit less attractive.

Then there’s the question of 2 bathrooms.  Why would a young professional, even a couple, living in a one bedroom apartment need two bathrooms?  That’s twice the cleaning and it suggests that for some reason they spend so much time entertaining that there is a need for a separate bathroom.  Again, this is an excess that the vast majority of the time would be underused because it is unnecessary.  It again pushes up the price and makes the unit less attractive for limited gain.

Then there’s the overall layout, its huge. A large living room and balcony are nice to haves. Most would love to have large spaces but again, much of it would likely be underused. Large underused spaces push up the cost of buying or renting.  They’re nice, but when you add each of these things up, it moves further and further away from “affordable”.

Nothing about this development matches the “affordable” label they’ve put on it.  It exemplifies waste and excess. This is a perfect example of the disconnect that Bermuda has with reality. We’re not catering to the real needs of the populace and instead catering to unrealistic daydreams. There is a false belief that everyone who works in international business is happy to waste the money they work hard for. This is why there are always apartments available to rent or buy in buildings like Atlantis and Dundonald, because few are interested in wasting that kind of money.

What we really need are urban living options that are truly affordable. You don’t have to look very far for ideas of what that is. Take New York’s first micro apartment development as a great example: Carmel Place. Beautiful apartments that maximize usable space in the name of affordability. This is then blended with an innovative service called Ollie that aims to add some of the amenities and convenience of a hotel to everyday living that caters very well to the young working professional.

You can literally fit two of these apartments in the space of one of the proposed 7 Park Road units. Here are some sample floorplans which maximize useable space and yet reduce the overall apartment size by nearly half. If the footprint is cut in half, hopefully the price could substantially be reduced making it more accessible for purchasing to live in or use as a rental.

Bermuda needs to get realistic.  “Affordable urban living” needs to actually be affordable. Housing remains excessively overpriced and as a result, our cost of living remains excessively high.  It makes everything difficult. Town could readily house more people, more affordably, without straining the island’s infrastructure. Doing so could remove many of the roadblocks we have on the road to recovery.  Sadly, we’re still delusional in embracing waste and excess rather than doing what it takes to deliver true affordability.

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