Last week, Icelanders woke up to find that the front page of the newspaper Fréttablaðið was now a full page ad. This was not unusual in itself, but the ad’s purpose ended up kicking off a veritable cyclone of rage.
The ad was a part of a new campaign from Íslandsbanki called “It is possible.” This campaign is aimed at young people—university students and the newly graduated—who are encouraged to take out a housing loan and buy their first apartment. For sure, banks are in the business of getting people to take out loans and, as an increasing number of young Icelanders are opting to leave the country, the campaign is understandable on some levels. But the approach inspired so much rage not just because it was so detached from what reality is like for the average young Icelander, but because the campaign itself also undermined its own point.
Vísir, the news website sibling of Fréttablaðið, devoted an entire section of their site to testimonials from young Icelanders who had managed to buy their first apartment. Here are some direct quotes from these testimonials:
“Heiðar Austmann bought his first apartment at the age of 23 with help from his father.”
“He moved home to his mom, put money aside, sold unnecessary stuff, worked two to three jobs, and saved to buy his first home.”
“By saving severely, working hard, and assistance from family members, they were able to buy their first apartment.”
“Jóra’s parents were moving out of their home in Grindavík, and so they decided to make the apartment ready for Jóra and Arnar to move in.”
And so forth. As such, the campaign (very similar, in fact, to similar dubious testimonial pieces published elsewhere) could have more accurately been called “It is possible if your family gives you money or literally hands over an apartment somewhere in the countryside.” Íslandsbanki was effectively not saying that it is possible for the newly graduated—almost all of them earning working-class wages and with loans of their own to pay off—to buy an apartment on their income alone; the bank was confirming what Icelanders already know: you simply can’t buy an apartment without outside help or sheer luck on your side.
The fact is, a recent financial assessment from Arion Bank recently concluded that even the rental market is severely constricted right now. Anywhere from 50% to 75% of available housing in Reykjavík is currently swallowed up by Airbnb. The average rent in the capital area has climbed by 11.5% in just the past 12 months alone. In short, renting in the greater Reykjavík area is already difficult, and only becoming more so. Buying real estate is, for most young Icelanders, completely out of the question.
While Icelanders raged about this campaign across social media, others have argued that technically speaking, it is possible to buy your first apartment. And they’re right. Technically speaking, it is possible to buy your first apartment. Just as, technically speaking, it’s possible to train to be an astronaut. This doesn’t mean it’s going to be a reality for most, or even many, of Iceland’s young people.
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