Business View Caribbean interviews Major Barrett Dill, General Manager of the Bermuda Housing Authority as part of our focus on best practices – housing sector.
The Bermuda Housing Corporation – Housing and hope
The mission of the Bermuda Housing Corporation (BHC) is to provide affordable and quality housing, while promoting independent living and home ownership for all Bermudians. The BHC had its roots in the early 1970s, when the government, at the time, determined that there was a serious lack of affordable housing on the 21-square-mile island. In response, it formed a “quango,” which is a quasi-non autonomous government agency, with the responsibility to construct a housing project to be called the Prospect Development.
“The Prospect Development consisted of 94 units that were sold off to Bermudians for approximately $27,000,” says Major Barrett Dill, BHC’s General Manager. “Real estate in Bermuda, at that time, for a similar type of unit, would have cost somewhere in the region of $250,000. So, the government built these units, primarily to cater to the needs of Bermudians who could not afford to get into the going market at the time. They formed the Bermuda Housing Corporation in 1974, in order to manage that particular project.”
In 1975, BHC produced its first Annual Report, which described some of the major projects already underway, including the construction of a total of 150 units in the Prospect and Cedar Park areas, which were to be sold with 99 year leaseholds and 25 year mortgages. “The corporation then grew because people were very appreciative of the opportunity,” Dill continues. “It graduated, not only into building and selling units, but also renting units, because the rental market was extraordinarily high, as well. High-net-worth individuals were living in Bermuda and real estate agents were able to command a higher rental rate than most Bermudians were capable of providing. So, subsequently, the Housing Corporation was charged with purchasing properties for rentals for the population that was in the middle-to-lower income bracket.”
In 1980, the government passed the Bermuda Housing Act to ensure that the Ministry of Public Works has sufficient oversight of the BHC, as well as adequate funding allotted toward housing assistance. In 1990, the agency started working on the Housing Information System to survey current market rents and monitor trends on a regular basis.
In 2006, Dill reports that the rental and sales markets spiked, again, due to a high influx of insurance and reinsurance business people coming to work in Bermuda. So BHC embarked on a new strategy – partnering with developers. “We advised them that if they were able to reduce their costs and build condominiums on plots of land that were provided by the government, and then sell the condos for well below market rate, then we would give them tax concessions for the materials they needed to import.”
Between 2008 and 2011, BHC helped over 60 families become first-time homeowners in a new, 96-unit condominium community in Paget. The community is now a thriving self-governing condominium family which is 100 percent occupied. In 2010, the agency established its Rent Geared to Income (RGI) initiative, which gives relief to clients by requiring that only 35 percent of their combined household income go for rent. “Ten percent of the household income has to be in a compulsory savings plan to be used as a down payment should a property become available within their household income bracket,” adds Dill.
Today, BHC has a total of 625 units under four different programs. The first program consists of 400 units that BHC owns for private sector rental. The second is transitional housing for people who cannot afford regular rent. “We put them in rooming houses with the view that once they get their finances in proper order, they will be able to rent more traditional types of units,” Dill explains. The third program encompasses the RGI properties, which Dill believes is a very innovative program and unique to Bermuda. The fourth program is emergency housing for families whose dwelling suffers a catastrophic event, such as a fire or flood that makes their present accommodation uninhabitable.
In 2007, the BHC expanded its mandate and introduced a model new program called the HUSTLE Truck, which, according to Dill, stands for Helping Unemployed Sustain Themselves with Limited Employment. First, it borrowed two vehicles from the Public Works department. “We then went into what would be considered depressed neighborhoods, where young men were sitting around all day, doing nothing, and we invited them to jump on the truck, and work for us for a minimal wage of $15 an hour, doing jobs within the portfolio of inventory the BHC had – painting, cutting back brush around the neighborhoods, collecting bulky items and transferring them to our dumping area, assisting senior citizens; churches and community groups call up, quite often, and ask for the assistance of the HUSTLE Truck workers.”
“The beauty part of the program is that they are not compelled to work, but if they want to work, then they are invited,” Dill continues. “So, at first, we hired five men and two women. That became very, very successful. It graduated from seven, in the space of three or four weeks, into 200 showing up. The two trucks would arrive at a central location; the young men and women were tasked to arrive there at eight o’clock in the morning, jump onto the trucks, and we would deliver them to projects that were identified by the Housing Corporation. At the end of their workday, we deliver them back to the central location. It’s been in operation, now, for ten years and still going strong.”
In order to better administer the program, BHC established a separate HUSTLE Truck office. “People who find themselves unemployed, call up,” Dill explains. “The HUSTLE Truck supervisor will take their particulars and then give them a call when an opportunity to work becomes available. They work for three weeks at a time; the fourth week they’re charged with trying to find full-time employment, and if they cannot find full-time employment, they return to the HUSTLE Truck and we will hire them, temporarily, for an additional three weeks, at which time we send them away, again, to find employment, and if they can’t, they come back, again. That gives us a rotation of people week by week, and hopefully, gives them some life skills to try to make them more marketable for employment. We also transfer their names into a database that we then give to our Department of Workforce Development, which is responsible for finding employment for Bermudians. So, as time passes, it’s a matter of them becoming more marketable and being employed in suitable jobs throughout the community. And some of our clients, particularly in transitional housing that have fallen on hard financial times, have an opportunity of working on the HUSTLE Truck and being able to pay their rent, which helps us, tremendously. They are helping us, to help them, to help Bermuda.”
On the BHC’s current agenda is a potential partnership with the agency’s sister organization, the Bermuda Housing Trust, whose task is to try and find housing for the island’s senior citizens. “We have done some research studies and realize that, in five years’ time, the senior citizens in Bermuda will, for the first time in our history, outweigh the younger members of our society,” says Dill. “So, we anticipate there is going to be a need for senior housing in addition to what the Bermuda Housing Trust provides. We’re now looking at the data to confirm whether we should be concentrating on building some purpose-built communities for our senior citizens, so that, at least, within the five years’ time, we will be able to provide housing for our aging population.”
When asked to sum up the Bermuda Housing Corporation’s overall mandate, Dill replies: “The most important point is that we are a service organization and we are here to assist Bermudians. Regardless of what the wealth of the household is, we are able to provide adequate, suitable, safe environments for the clients of BHC, and, as an offshoot, for all of Bermuda. We are taking care of people who may not have had hope in the past, but now have hope for the future.”
AT A GLANCE
WHO: The Bermuda Housing Corporation
WHAT: An agency of the Ministry of Public Works
WHERE: Hamilton, Bermuda
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