President stresses the need for a national housing policy

President Marie Louise Coleiro Preca speaks out about the need to have a national housing policy to safeguard local communities

President Marie Louise Coleiro Preca has spoken out about the need to have a national housing policy to safeguard local communities in cities across the island and ensure that those facing poverty were not abandoned in an ever harsher market.

Speaking at a meeting of the Forum Komunita Bormliza focusing on social housing in the area, the president praised the networking efforts being made among the three cities.

“Speaking out about the issue and being backed by more than one locality is necessary in order to push for a social housing policy,” she said, adding that controlling rental rates of private apartments is not an option.

“The rise in prices of property in our cities, is resulting in extensive poverty with people not being able to afford properties in the area any more,” she said, adding that the cities were becoming the province of wealthy foreigners.

She explained that such a policy could include subsidies for low income home owners as well as ensure that the sector no longer remained something based on individual cases or on intuition, but that there was a standardised attitude.

“Vulnerable people cannot be thrown to the dogs because of the harsh housing prices and policies out there,” she said, adding that if things continued the way they were, there could be a situation of mass homelessness.

Referring to suggestions made by Yana Mintoff, Coleiro Preca added that the government could not essentially control the rents charged by apartment and home-owners.

“The best thing you can do at this point is to push for a nation-wide housing policy, and then look at other measures that might be particularly effective specifically for the needs of Bormla.”

In an interview with Maltese newspaper Illum, Mintoff had made the suggestion for the government to establish a maximum value for rental fees.

“Rental prices should not exceed the average rental prices in the area in question,” she had suggested. The proposal however, had not been accepted by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat who had insisted that the government cannot interfere in a free market, and that the government could only help by means of additional subsidies or social projects.

Coleiro Preca explained that while subsidies to help people keep up with their bills and even to pay any debts they might have accumulated could be one step in the right direction, it also has to be accompanied with other measures.

In a presentation he gave during the meeting, Dr Kurt Xerri said that solutions to the current crisis could include subsidies to help low income households, incentives to encourage home owners to rent out any unused properties, as well as rent stabilization measures.

“The central point in all of this is that all of these measures should go hand in hand,” he said, adding that studies over the years had shown that supply was falling desperately short of supply in the area.

Coleiro Preca also emphasised the need to guarantee open spaces and to make sure that social settings were conducive to better lives through a mixture of social backgrounds in various locations, particularly in social housing itself.

“Some years ago, a housing estate was occupied by people with similar and dire social situations, leading to things like loitering in the locality and the creation of a veritable ghetto,” she said.

Coleiro Preca also stressed that outreach programmes were essential to gain a better insight into the causes of poverty, given that many of those in extreme situations never really sought the help that they needed.

Quoting a survey by the Jean Antide foundation, she said that around 11% of genuine poor cases never sought help.

“Poverty is never a choice and some people cannot get out of it,” she said quoting issues like illnesses or behavioural and psychological issues.

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