Log In

Reset Password

Government ribbon cuttings are ‘Shakespearean performance’

The former Grand Atlantic condo complex on South Shore, Warwick (File photograph)

If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.”

Author unknown

When I first read about the $10 million grant pledged to the Bermuda Housing Corporation in the 2024 Budget, I couldn’t help but be reminded of a story that ran in the Bermuda Sun back in 2013.

According to an anonymous source, several members of the Bermuda Housing Corporation Board resigned over the Government’s 2009 decision to proceed with the development of the Grand Atlantic housing project. Allegedly, “the entire housing corporation board voted unanimously against the project”. The board believed that the design, size and price of the “affordable housing” units were not suitable for the housing market at the time. The Cabinet proceeded with the project anyway.

The Grand Atlantic was, and remains, a complete housing failure. It stands as a testament to Bermuda’s repeated failure to properly assess Bermuda’s housing needs and plan forward in a strategic manner. Nevertheless, even failed and superficial housing developments have political value. Such is the game of politics. Which is why it’s critically important to cut through the propaganda and ask meaningful questions such as:

• How was the housing crisis created?

• How have our fundamental housing challenges been addressed?

• Have the Government’s housing solutions addressed the real issues, or are they merely Band-Aids being applied to self-inflicted wounds?

This brings me back to the recent budget grant. The Premier stated that this new grant was in addition to $15 million pledged two years ago. In October 2022, an announcement was made for a $21 million grant to be spaced out over three years. Only a few months later, the 2023 Budget Statement contained a similar three-year pledge for $15 million. I’ve assumed that this $15 million grant is the $21 million pledge after being reduced for the 2023 Budget Statement.

I’m not sure what the reporting rules are for grants, but I could not figure out how much money actually was granted and how it was actually utilised between October 2022 and February 2024. Perhaps the sums are accounted for in a place that I could not find, but the main point here is that I could not find any housing reports that detail how the annual budgets and grants have been spent. Without transparency, there can be no accountability. This may be great for photo-ops at ribbon cuttings, but it does not solve a systemic housing problem.

I was at least able to confirm that the BHC’s annual budget largely remained unchanged from 2015 until 2023. This fact greatly increased my curiosity about the Government’s sudden housing pledges. I couldn’t find any recent housing reports that may have prompted the pledges, but I did find several news articles that spoke of a post-pandemic housing crisis. But we’ve had a housing crisis at one point or another since at least the early 2000s. So what has changed?

Well, when I checked propertyskipper.com on February 19, I only found three apartments listed below $4,000. I expected housing to be expensive, but I did not expect the supply of available housing to be so low — especially given emigration over the past decade. This isn’t a property crisis as I’ve ever known it. It is the kind of crisis that would drive even more Bermudians out of the country and deter others from returning. Further, it is the kind of housing crisis that makes the Government’s announcement to bring in 8,000 new workers over the next five years sound like a bad joke. Where exactly will they live?

Despite more exhaustive research, I couldn’t find any government housing data, reports or plans online. Granted, it’s possible that the Government has collected data and is withholding inconvenient truths from the public. But if the Government has been monitoring the situation, why is it so far behind the housing curve instead of ahead of it?

Common sense dictates that these grants are kneejerk reactions instead of demonstrations of sincere interest in addressing Bermuda’s longstanding housing needs. Just like the Grand Atlantic, the Government's Shakespearean performance at every BHC ribbon cutting seems to be far more about coming up with votes than coming up with meaningful housing solutions.

The sad thing about the decades-long housing problem is that the need for a proper, continual assessment should have always been blatantly obvious. It’s just common sense. And to be clear, this isn’t just a failure of the Burt administration — I couldn’t find any housing reports or plans created under the One Bermuda Alliance either.

But just as I was about to give up my search for previous housing reports, I stumbled across a Royal Gazette article from July 2012, which said:

“Bermuda Housing Corporation needs more power to tackle soaring house prices, the issue of vacant homes and future accommodation needs for seniors, according to the Sustainable Development Roundtable. The advisory group wants government to set up a policy unit within the BHC to carry out research and develop a better approach to managing Bermuda’s housing stock. It points to figures showing the cost of housing has risen 175 per cent in 15 years, meaning homes are now 3.5 times more expensive in Bermuda than the rest of the developed world. The SDRT also notes the island has no accurate record of its stock of vacant or derelict properties, making it difficult to manage the topic of housing on a national level.”

What exactly was the Sustainable Development Roundtable? I had no clue. After a lot more digging, I found that it was a government advisory group set up in 2005 by former PLP premier Alex Scott. There was public consultation during 2005, and Mr Scott released a draft strategy and implementation plan in 2006.

Much to my disbelief, the sustainable development initiative wasn’t merely to address housing. To paraphrase Mr Scott’s opening statement: “The draft Sustainable Development Strategy and Implementation Plan was to provide us with an opportunity to create the type of Bermuda we want to pass down to our children’s children.”

Believe it or not, we actually had a strategic plan created 18 years ago. Not just a housing plan, but a comprehensive strategic plan that was focused on addressing Bermuda’s past, present and future challenges.

• To read the sustainable development reports, see Related Media.

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

• See tomorrow for the second of Bryant Trew’s articles

You must be Registered or to post comment or to vote.

Published April 01, 2024 at 8:00 am (Updated April 01, 2024 at 9:00 am)

Government ribbon cuttings are ‘Shakespearean performance’

What you
Need to
1. For a smooth experience with our commenting system we recommend that you use Internet Explorer 10 or higher, Firefox or Chrome Browsers. Additionally please clear both your browser's cache and cookies - How do I clear my cache and cookies?
2. Please respect the use of this community forum and its users.
3. Any poster that insults, threatens or verbally abuses another member, uses defamatory language, or deliberately disrupts discussions will be banned.
4. Users who violate the Terms of Service or any commenting rules will be banned.
5. Please stay on topic. "Trolling" to incite emotional responses and disrupt conversations will be deleted.
6. To understand further what is and isn't allowed and the actions we may take, please read our Terms of Service
7. To report breaches of the Terms of Service use the flag icon