So when is a crisis not a crisis?

Nov 25, 2021

I have been watching the debate around housing rage on for the last few weeks with interest. There seems to be intense debate around exactly what we call the situation we find ourselves in. Crisis? Very challenging situation? Hoo-ha cooked up by the Left? No, it’s semantics. And an attempt by some of those in Government to throw shade on something that will shape our island for many years to come.

Having read the statements about what was said at last week’s Chamber of Commerce Lunch, I was perplexed, but I had put the downplaying of our situation and how much better off we were than some parts of the world down to a rushed response to Murray Norton’s usual probing and targeted questioning. But no, this week the Treasury Minister doubled down on the statements made about the non-existence of a crisis (if not our comparison to India and Africa). And for the same statements to be “stood by” by our Assistant Treasury Minister, Lindsay Ash, including an ill thought through statement about “The Left” and their rubbishing of our island? It’s exactly because we love our island Deputy Ash that we are so concerned, regardless of political leaning.

Let’s look at some statistics. Our mean loan-to-value in Jersey has been holding steady at around 70%, but the average house price is well over £600k and rising at many times the rate of inflation. So the average house buyer will be finding a deposit of £180k and saddling up for the next few decades – but not if you are earning an average salary, and just within reach if you are a couple – providing you can find the deposit. The mix adjusted price of Jersey properties (so effectively the average house price) was 24% higher than London and well over double the same figure in the UK.

But there is an elephant in the room, and it’s not one that many of us want to point out. The housing crisis (for that is what it is) actually benefits the individual homeowner in Jersey – at least in the here and now. Our assets have risen in value more than most on the island get paid per year. And this leaves us in a quandary. We want people to get on the property ladder, to settle into good, valuable jobs and to raise their families here, but we also want to see our assets increase in value. The two are not aligned.

However, this is a short-term view. Forever increasing housing costs (at anything close to the rates we have been seeing) will drive people away from our beautiful island. We will drive away those who have lived here for years and simply can no longer afford to live here. We will also drive away those who are cashing in on their recently inflated assets to set up in more reasonably priced jurisdictions. And we will drive away those who aspire to set up here, but are turned off by an inability to rent never mind purchase property.

If that’s not a crisis right here, right now, I don’t know what is. Our economy is built on the hard work and perseverance of our inhabitants, thrives on individuals from the highest paid executives to the temporary office worker, from those waiting tables in our restaurants to those working in our fields. We drive these people away at our peril. We can see what happens when we don’t have enough people here on the island, our fields lay empty, our shops stay closed, our restaurants close and our businesses suffer. We must do what we can to make it affordable for everyone to be here to keep the machinery of Jersey turning.

We need more accommodation, we need more affordable accommodation. We need to help younger islanders to live in suitable houses. It heartening to hear that Andium have plans to build 3000 more affordable properties by 2030 – but that’s only just over one a day for the next 8 years. We need to be reusing the sites the States already have, working closely with those planning the town centre, freeing up commercial brownfield sites and perhaps even some careful re-zoning of our green zones. We need to make it easier for developers to develop much needed residential property. I will look in with interest about the sites that will be debated on in our Assembly next week and indeed those sites that are being put forward within the current Draft Island Bridging Plan. We have a crisis now and it needs immediate and large-scale action. And will require compromise by many of us who are invested in the status quo.

Eliot Lincoln | Party Chair 

First published | JEP 25 November 2021

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