"The New Settlers" was the title of a program on French-Swiss television last Thursday that took the pulse of the housing crisis in the Lake Geneva Region. To lighten the mood of the serious subject, the investigative report used the theme song from "Desperate Housewives". 

Every crisis needs a well-identified bad guy. This time, it's foreigners. Not refugees or gypsies, but the groups of multinationals settling into the area. Their social status may be different from what is usually stigmatized, but the clichés are still telling: their big 4x4s, their cushy neighborhoods, their private schools, their keep-to-themselves lifestyles, their lingua franca (English - even after years spent in the French-speaking canton)… They are high-and-mighty colonialists of our peaceful land, making rents skyrocket, polluting our streets and villages and chasing away the natives who can no longer afford to live here. This apocalyptic picture was painted, inter alia, by  Didier Lohri, of Bassins, a village in the Vaud canton,  who engages in linguistic resistance: he only addresses the new arrivals in French.

These "New Settlers" are easy scapegoats, not only visible but audible. But checking the figures helps balance perceptions. In the Vaud canton, between 2002 and 2010, direct foreign investment created 8,950 jobs - steady jobs, lasting more than 5 years. Not all of these jobs are given to foreigners. Many large companies which produce goods (Medtronic and Ferring, for example) and services (Parker, Eaton) employ many people who were already resident in the canton before the arrival of these employers.

The program presented a second example: in 2005, of 250,536 full-time workers  in the canton of Vaud, only 6.4% came from companies with foreign capital. And the number of foreign multinationals employed was very low:  1.1 %. The most recent statistics show that the increase in foreigners remains moderate.

The housing problem  is not caused by  the stream of foreign executives. The real problem is the imbalance between demand and supply. On average, 300 housing units a year would be enough to absorb these arrivals (including the places taken up by the natives). The problem is that  7,500 accommodation units are missing - since 2005. Housing construction is mostly in the category of big apartments, not in the smaller and cheaper elements. This reality is even more evident in Geneva, where the barrier to new construction reaches an incredible level of absurdity.

The region is paying for 20 years of delay in construction as well as its parochialism and its lack of vision, courage and investment.  Since the Lake Geneva Region realized the problem, it has tried to handle, simultaneously, growth, i.e., the demonstration of its success, and the side-effects of that success. Today's housing shortage is in no case due to foreign executives who have settled here. They are part of (guarantees of?) the prosperity of everyone in the Lake Geneva Region - as are the migrant workers who do jobs that the Swiss do not want to take care anymore. It is time to end this kind of soft xenophobia, which makes Geneva look like Wisteria Lane for a number of the "invaders".