Fiji's Urban Drift

March 21, 2018, 10:24 a.m.

What can proprietors expect with an urban drift that is expected to continue?

Fiji’s urban population has increased by a little over 5 per cent in the past decade, attesting to extended town boundaries and a large exit from the country’s rural areas and these are particularly evident in areas that are bound for further expansion, like Nadi Town, and satellite townships that will be officially incepted as proper municipalities, such as Nabouwalu, between Labasa and Savusavu.

The Fiji Bureau of Statistic’s 2017 Population and Housing Census noted that the proportion of Fiji’s population living in urban areas was 37.2 per cent in 1976, 38.7 per cent in 1986, 46.4 per cent in 1996, 50.7 per cent in 2007 and 55.9 per cent in 2017.

“The significant growth between 1986 and 1996 was partly due to the extension of Urban Boundaries which is the case for 2017 as well.”
A total of 884,887 persons were enumerated in the Census, with these Fiji residents living in 191,910 private households and 1,224 institutions on census night (September 17, 2017).
Other highlights from the Census include the following:  
 The total population is 884,887 compared to 837,271 in the 2007 census, bearing an increase of 5.7 per cent, while the median age stands at 27.5 years, with 69 per cent of the population is below the age of 40.

Low birth rates and migration out of the country has resulted in an annual population growth of 0.6 per cent, though evidently, many proprietors still retain rental returns from their residential and commercial properties here, which have eased with the rise of management services from realtors.
The Bureau noted that much of the growth in urban areas was due to the extension of urban boundaries to cover growth in Nadi, Lautoka and parts of Taveuni island in Cakaudrove.
In Fiji’s Western division, the province of Ba (which includes Nadi, Lautoka, Ba and Tavua) has had a significant increase in the proportion of its urban population (52.2 percent in 2007 to 66.8 per cent in 2017).
In the Central division, Naitasiri Province’s urban population grew by 10.1 per cent, with the urban proportion of its population sitting at 83.7 per cent. Rewa Province’s urban population grew by 5.3 per cent with the urban proportion of its population now at 86.5 per cent. Tailevu Province noted a 14.0 per cent increase in urban population, and in the Northern division, Cakaudrove’s urban population increased 56.4 per cent, and the urban proportion of its population increased from 14.3 per cent in 2007 to 21.8 per cent in 2017.
Fiji’s rural population of 44.1 per cent has decreased by 5.1 per cent compared to 2007, females have had a higher level of increase in urban areas, with the most notable in Ba Province.
The urban population stood at 494,252 while the rural population stood at 390,635 (44.1 per cent of the total population), a decline of 21,790 (5.3 per cent) from 2007.
“A combination of Out-Migration and the extension of the Urban Boundaries were the main causes of decline in the number of rural dwellers in the following provinces;
• Ba by 28,465 with the Rural proportion of Ba’s population decreasing from 47.8% in 2007 to 31.2% in 2017.
• Cakaudrove by 2,840 with the Rural proportion of Cakaudrove’s population decreasing from 85.7% in 2007 to 78.2% in 2017.”

The population of rural Macuata in Vanua Levu (Fiji’s second largest island) dropped by 4,875, and mainly attributed to the movement of people out of rural areas, while Macuata’s population decreased from 60.3 per cent in 2007 to 58.8 per cent in 2017.”

Rural populations had a higher proportion in the young age groups 0-4, 5-9 and 10-14. On the other hand, a higher proportion of urban dwellers are in the age groups 20-24, 25-29, 30-34 and 35-39, age brackets where many are either beginning tertiary education or foraying into their careers.

“A rise in rural-urban drift is bound to have a direct effect on the demand for residential properties,” noted the Consumer Council of Fiji CEO, Premila Kumar. “This trend is expected to continue unless and until there is development in the rural areas to create more employment. The government has reasoned that the increase is largely due to the extension of urban boundaries and the movement of more people from rural to urban areas.”

Kumar adds that there has been increased demand for rental properties and land for people to build their first homes, and a surge in landlord-tenancy complaints, as well as rising complaints against construction companies.   

Since March 3, 2007, a Government-sanctioned Rental Freeze has been in place, barring the increase of ground and residential rental charges to ensure affordable housing. This order was annually extended on January 1 by the Fijian Competition and Consumer Commission, though complaints about defiant landlords continue.

“Due to the lack of enforcement in the area of landlord and tenancy, some landlords do not adhere to the Rent Freeze Order currently in place. The enforcement agency also needs the assistance from consumers to bring issues related to Rent Freeze Order to their attention,” Kumar added.

From 2013 till to date, the Council has received 1069 complaints regarding landlord and tenancy with a monetary value of $265,085.18 Common issues include failure to refund bond money, non-issuance of receipts by landlords and non-compliance with the 30-days written eviction notice period.

The Council was further made aware of some landlords increasing the rent despite the residential Rent Freeze Order in place and the poor state of the rental premises. The Council through mediation with both parties managed to assist the tenants where congenial resolutions were attained.

“Furthermore, the Council noticed that low supply in the housing sector gave way for some unprincipled real estate agents to take advantage of the situation by boosting prices and pressuring local homebuyers. Potential buyers and sellers of properties are urged to liaise only with licensed real estate agents by liaising with Real Estate Licensing Board (REALB) to verify the legitimacy of an agent,” Kumar highlighted.

Bogus agents have been a recurring problem for both property buyers and seekers seeking professional services, and the Real Estate Agents Association, which was formed in mid-2017.

“They exploit our industry by taking the share of services that should be provided by legitimate, licensed agents, and hence, give our industry a bad name,” noted Association president, Vyas Deo Sharma.

“There are over 80 licensed real estate agents and it is encouraging to see that more fakes ones are being taken to task for practicing without a licence, however we do need more support from all those involved in the transactional process- including lawyers and conveyancing officers, to remove bogus agents.”

The Association has around 60 members and there are plans to introduce qualifying examinations for aspiring agents and sales staff.

“They need to come in with knowledge, to maintain standards. We have drawn up examinations that are pending approval from the relevant authorities, and anticipate that this will help lift the quality and expertise of incoming industry players.”

Sharma added that the Association was not only working on increasing its membership, but also better representation on industry statutory authorities, such as the REALB.

There are varied issues noted by industry players and regulations aside, many are also anxious to see how Fiji’s cramped housing sector will cater to rising urbanites.

Knowledge is power, and as the mantra goes, the provision of statistics from the Fiji Bureau of Statistics’ 2017 Population and Housing Census is valuable for real estate practitioners wanting to map the trajectory of Fiji’s latest residential layout.