Eighty-four percent of residents cannot afford a new single-family home, and single-family homes make up 90% of the housing stock
The housing needs report presented at the regular council meeting on Tuesday evening painted a grim picture of the island’s housing crisis.
“…[It’s] the most acute affordability problem I’ve seen,” said Urbanics consultant Sophie Payne.
Payne told council that 84% of residents cannot afford a new single-family home and that single-family homes make up 90% of housing stock. No median-income household can afford a market-priced home, Payne said.
People unable to afford homes are turning to renting, putting more pressure on an already stressed rental stock, the report said.
The study revealed low vacancy rates and high insecurity in the rental market – the report describes dozens of tenants vying for a single vacant unit.
Urbanics found that retail people in Bowen are mostly tenants. “It’s clear that the local economy relies on the rental market available to current or potential employees,” Payne said. She pointed out that nearly two-thirds of renters live on the island while nearly two-thirds of owners commute.
Single-parent households face barriers when they need more bedrooms, especially if they have children of different sexes, and one-person (median) households cannot afford any rentals on Bowen.
Competition between short-term rentals and the long-term housing stock has come to the fore. Landlords can often earn more on short-term rentals, so some tenants are forced to move out for the summers, adding to housing insecurity, the report said. Payne said that, based on case studies in other communities, short-term rentals drive up the price of long-term rentals. The report noted that policy makers may need to clarify priorities between housing and tourism.
A growing number of older people and unsuitable housing for older people was another focus of the report and highlighted a need for more diverse housing.
Urbanics provided a five-point strategic plan for addressing housing on the island, with the suggestion that it be reviewed every five to 10 years (Payne noted that given the evolving situation with COVID-19 , this would be particularly prudent.) Among the recommendations are: densification of properties with municipal services (aqueduct and sewers), particularly in the cove, in particular by encouraging the conversion of garages or basements into rental housing, the addition of floors to buildings and the replacement of single-family houses by multi-family houses. Increase entry-level housing for young families and housing for seniors (the two demographic groups expected to grow the most in coming years.) And allow more discussion about new affordable housing developments.
Advisors generally said the report confirmed what they already knew.
See the full report here.