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Selective facts about housing figures

“On the doorsteps you have told us that Bermudians need more places to live and raise their families at rents they can afford, and we have listened.

“Our record of commitment to building more affordable housing for Bermudians is crystal clear. Via the Bermuda Housing Corporation, we have delivered 70 additional units in 2023 alone. We will deliver more in 2024.” Christopher Famous, March 23, 2024.

Last Wednesday I spotted a comment made by MP Famous in The Royal Gazette comments section. In an attempt to rebuke another commentator, he wrote: “It would be helpful if you actually state facts. 67 Units were completed between 2020-2023, 4 units completed in 2024.”

His comment reminded me of a Facebook post he made three weeks ago on ‘All Things PLP’. That post opened with the statement and image shown above. What The Royal Gazette comment and Facebook post have in common is that they serve as great reminders of how easily facts can be used to confuse, mislead, and bamboozle people when those facts are selective.

For example, Famous compared the OBA’s entire track record from 2012-2017 to the PLP track from 2020-2024. I would have thought that if the PLP had added affordable housing units to the BHC stock from 2017-2020, they would also be using those numbers to further shame the OBA. Why then would he exclude those three years? Were there no additions from 2017-2020?

Another example is related to funding. In 2011 the Bermuda Housing Corporation budget was $6.6 million. In 2012 it was lowered to $6.3 million, then raised to $8.2 million in 2013. In 2015 it had been lowered back down to $6.1 million, where it remained unchanged until 2023. It was not until 2023 that the BHC budget was increased marginally to $6.6 million.

Without even considering inflation since 2011, and post-pandemic supply chain spikes, I think it is blatantly obvious that 70 units were not built since 2020. Made available, yes. But built? That does not quite sound right, even when you factor in the millions in additional grants pledged in 2022-2023.

Further fuelling my doubt about how many units were built versus renovated was a Facebook post made last Thursday by the PLP’s public relations officer. The officer proclaimed: “Since 2020, the PLP has built 70 affordable homes, reducing the rental burden for more Bermudians and increasing their financial stability.” The post was made with a picture of a Somerset house that was built at least 30 years ago.

Digging even further, consider the claim, “we have delivered 70 additional units in 2023 alone”. In one breath we are told 70 units from 2020-2023. In the next breath, it is 70 units in 2023 alone. Unless I am missing something here, no units could have been delivered in 2020-2022 if all 70 units were delivered in 2023 alone.

Don’t get me wrong, 70 is still a nice number. But I think there is a serious lack of transparency about how Famous came up with that number. We have seen the photo ops, so yes, some units have been newly built or undergone major renovations. What we don’t know is how much of that 70 includes BHC stock that was dormant or recently vacated. For all we know, he could be including housing units that were merely spruced up and put back on the market. And especially given post-pandemic emigration, we should have all the facts.

There is another of Famous’s comments that is worth noting. On April 6, after he listed several major affordable housing developments that were created under the UBP and the PLP, he boldly stated: “The only time period that there was no significant investment in housing stock was under the OBA. Hence, why some folks are upset when they got called out.”

Interesting. Since the formation of the OBA, Famous and many others have rarely missed an opportunity to claim that the OBA is the same as the UBP. Politically, it was the gift that kept on giving and it is still used today to hammer any OBA politician who has even the slightest connection to someone in the UBP. But when talking about affordable housing, Famous treated the OBA and the UBP as two completely separate entities. How convenient.

It is critical to remember that the BHC only deals with Bermuda’s most acute housing needs. It does not address Bermuda’s broader, systemic affordable housing crisis.

It is also critical to remember that MP Famous is not only a member of the ruling party. He is also the Chair of the Bermuda Housing Corporation. If anyone has access to all the affordable housing facts, it is him. So why is he being so selective with the facts he chooses to share with the public?

Quite frankly, all that he has shared is very confusing. No one can read Famous’s facts and definitively state how much has been spent, how those funds were spent, and over what years they were spent. No one can tell how big the affordable housing problem actually is, either. The way his facts are presented, it is all too easy to accept that the PLP is all good, and the OBA is utterly bad. This is the only point that matters — at least according to Famous.

• Bryant Trew can be contacted via e-mail at bryanttrew@mac.com

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Published April 22, 2024 at 8:00 am (Updated April 22, 2024 at 7:39 am)

Selective facts about housing figures

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