Social housing needs an overhaul

I appeal to the Siggiewi local council, to make away with partisan politics, and place country before political tribalism

A number of residents of Siggiewi have been sharing their concerns with me regarding housing projects being proposed by government in significant concentrations in Siggiewi. Before getting into the specifics, I would like to clarify that as an Opposition MP I am not against social accommodation.

Rather, I take this opportunity to express criticism towards government, which during the past seven years, left aside those who are mostly in need for adequate housing. We have seen not one new apartment being completed and given to those seeking a home – a fact which has been raised often my colleague Ivan Bartolo, the Opposition spokesperson for social housing and poverty. Realistically, we need housing in every locality so that we support those really in need, either because of their family situation or because they cannot become a home owner.

For the simple fact that government remained inactive for the past seven years, the waiting list degenerated and more than 3,000 families are now waiting for an apartment. Government is now in panic-mode, and as a result, it is increasing the density in its housing projects. This style of vision-less politics will result in a concentration of people in one place, and in Siggiewi this will be the third case of high-density housing. If one were to place 3,000 people living in a hall, the waiting list could be reduced instantly, but that would not have solved the housing problem. This is what government is doing.

Let me give a few examples. How can a block with 193 apartments, such as the one proposed near the Siggiewi football ground, have no open spaces? Can you imagine a building larger than three tumoli without a single metre of open space? I pity those who will live in such conditions. Not to mention the design of the facade which looks reminiscent of communist times rather than that of a European state in the 21st century. How is it possible, that after so many discussions in Parliament on the importance of architectural design, Labour wasn’t even able to come out with something better?

The proposed mediocre design has “housing” written all over it – which is a stereotype stamp that needs to be eliminated for the benefit of those who will be living in it. The integration of social housing communities ought to provide the necessary qualities and inspiration which is typically not associated with customary social housing. In this sense, government has failed to integrate this project with the rest of the buildings in the vicinity.

Another serious shortcoming in this project of 193 apartments is the lack of a refuge area. You cannot make this stuff up. Can you imagine 193 families taking out their garbage on the pavement? This will create an inconvenience not just for nearby residents but also for those living in these same apartments.

At the end of the day, all this demonstrates how such projects were the result of panic and lack of planning by government. The Housing Authority did not have the decency to provide the necessary parking spaces. All of these issues can be seen in other projects too.

In another site in Siggiewi, this time in Triq it-Tank, the density of the apartments has increased in what now seems like a packaging factory for sardines, once again without providing enough parking spaces on site (35 apartments vs 16 garages). How can people in authority ever be taken seriously when forcing developers to create the necessary parking provisions on-site, only for government to do otherwise in its projects?

In this despicable scenario, local councils have a duty to intervene to bring some sense to government policy. I appeal to the Siggiewi local council, to make away with partisan politics, and place country before political tribalism.

Every elected official, be it on a national or local stature, takes the oath of office towards the Republic of Malta and therefore is loyal to the national interest not the political interest. I feel I am duty bound to thank the minority councillors, Alessia Psaila Zammit, Julian Borg and Francine Farrugia, for it were not for them, the Siggiewi Council wouldn’t even have objected with the Planning Authority.

I genuinely appeal for reconsideration, now that we are still in time. Let’s take partisanship out of such projects in Siggiewi or anywhere else. Let’s not be remembered in history for having stood by and watched on as buildings without any style and design, devoid of the necessary quality of life were taking shape. I appeal to Minister Roderick Galdes to look for quality in housing projects, not only in Siggiewi, but in all localities. Once again, I am not against social housing, absolutely. I am against buildings that do not create the necessary quality of life to those that shall live in them.