By Youri Kemp
A top realtor has expressed concern over the high cost of homes in The Bahamas - and a shortage of affordable housing, saying: "The cost of owning the Bahamian dream of having your own home is far outpacing the majority of Bahamians because in today's economy affordable housing just doesn't exist."
Mario Carey, founder of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate MCR Bahamas Group, told Tribune Business: "Incomes in The Bahamas can't keep up with inflation, the cost of living, increases in VAT/ taxes, lack of access capital for the business community along with a high unemployment rate in addition to the lack of diversity in housing inventory.
"The cost of owning the Bahamian dream of having your own home is far outpacing the majority of Bahamians because in today's economy affordable housing just doesn't exist."
Mr Carey added: "There is limited housing data to demonstrate how many building permits of affordable housing have been issued in Nassau for any period of time. What's being noticed by real estate professionals working in the industry, however, is that the demand for affordable housing is higher than the supply; and unfortunately, the idea of Bahamians moving to a Family Island where housing prices may be cheaper may not be viable due to the lack of substantial jobs and industries that can support strong economic livelihoods."
"Add into the mix the level of student debt that's directly incurred by our returning educated Bahamians, the future of our country, are in most cases in debt and unable to start their own homes within ten or sometimes twenty years upon returning even if they are able to do so.
"We have to ask ourselves: How do we rid those with student debt, or even a portion of it if they return home with a Bachelor's or a Master's Degree.
He added: "What type of fund or charitable vehicle for tax write-off purposes can be set up so student debt can be paid off so thereby that person can enter the real estate market free of debt?"
Mr Carey said many studies have been done regarding the social and economic benefits of home ownership, as it lowers crime rates, spurs the creation of wealth across the population, and helps students achieve better school grades.
With regard to foreclosed properties, he said almost 70 percent of the values are below $300k and primarily blames the cost of living and inflation verses salaries along with lifestyle choices and the inability to save and budget and suggests that there may be a need for additional tax breaks under certain regulations.
Mr Carey pointed to pathways for home ownership and said duplex, or multi family properties work best for home owners as they provide income along with housing and seldom get foreclosed.
Mr Carey added that typically the land cost is too high in subdivisions and municipal requirements are outdated, or not properly planned with regard to zoning requirements. But he said the solution is to have the cost to develop the land subsidised by government and added: "After all every home incurs electricity, water, telecommunications, value added tax, and in some cases real property tax. All income to offset any subsidies."
Mr Carey suggested "maybe" there can be an annual duty free home improvement allowance, similar to that for overseas shopping. He said: "Let it be $5lk per year on all building materials for anyone proving ownership of he dwelling."
Mr Carey also pointed to AirBnB being encouraged in The Bahamas and highlighted the AirBnB business being one of the fastest growing global industries, moving at the pace alongside the big four of Amazon, Facebook, Apple and Google.
He said: "The Bahamas needs to fully embraced this industry and empower all Bahamians in every way shape or form possible. It is the tourists who use AirBnB and tourism is the number one industry for The Bahamas. We're seeing guests in homes popping up in areas like Fox Hill and off Carmichael road and in places that will surprise anyone
"What an opportunity this has been for the 'people to people' concept to thrive and for Bahamian entrepreneurs to thrive. A whole national empowerment program for AirBnB ownership for Bahamians only should be created that allows wealth creation and huge employment opportunities."