The Malta Independent 8 March 2021, Monday

Housing – Humans, not stones

Ivan Bartolo Monday, 18 January 2021, 07:28 Last update: about 3 months ago

When we talk about social housing, we are not talking about stone, but about humans. Those people whose lives are a constant challenge, with many ups and downs and sometimes bumps.

Undoubtedly, when we discuss the Housing Authority, there is no divergence on the objective of this governmental entity. We agree that this is an authority, which is there to address the various social difficulties that families and various individuals are facing in terms of having a roof over their heads; which above all is a fundamental human right to be adequate and dignified. What we politicians may differentiate on is the method of achieving the goal. I believe that whoever is in government, there has always been goodwill, even if mistakes have been made and are still being made, and we will continue to bear the consequences of these mistakes over the years.

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Waiting list

There have many people, all of whom have a history of difficult situations due to rents, stability, and lack of resources due to housing challenges. These people always hope that the government will remember them and give them at least somewhere small but decent to live in. I am not talking here about those who can somehow rent and receive the rent subsidy, but about those people who have been applying for a long time and do not have an anything to fall back on. The waiting list is what it is. However, I have never experienced as much confusion of numbers on this waiting list as during this legislature. Suddenly, they tell us that there is a way, and suddenly there is a drastic reduction of numbers. In fact, I do not really know how people are struck off from this waiting list. If for example a person does not reply to a letter, will it be struck off straight away?

Then, during the budget, you hear a Minister give a different figure again. I end up thinking wrong. Why am I saying this? Why did I ask how applicants are removed from the waiting list? Because a Labour government in the 1990s had struck off applications from the waiting list because they simply did not respond to a letter sent to them by the Housing Authority. But these Labourites, with Mintoff no longer in the political scene, seem to have to have lost their social conscious along the way. In fact, this is not only being said by my good self, but the same words were said to them by former Prime Minister Mintoff in 1997.

Now, maybe, before the next election, they will start distributing these units, thanks to European Union funds. Yes, thanks to the European Union, we are seeing the fruits of the decision made in 2004 by our people, and that these Labour representatives used to tell us that "Partnership is the best option" and that the “Partnership Won”.

 

Elevators

When you hear them talk, it’s as if the sun only rose over Malta in 2013. This is repeated in every area, including Housing. They do not tell us that so far, they have not distributed a single unit, after seven years in Government. The lifts matter is another important challenge in housing which the government needs to take more seriously.

In the 1990s there were about 99 blocks in which lifts were installed. From 2002 to 2009 (in 7 years) elevators were installed in 98 blocks. There were also another 110 blocks where the lift was installed by the Department of construction and house repairs, which is now dissolved and incorporated with the Housing Authority. Elevators were also installed in 33 homes where persons with disability reside. This brings the total to 241 blocks of buildings in which an elevator has been installed in 7 years. An average of 30 lifts per year.

 

Vision

The Nationalist Government had started employing a social worker, and later employed two. I stress that for the need of the Authority two social workers are too few. There were two social workers and that is how it has remained. No progress at all. A social worker is extremely needed, especially when it comes to seeing that everyone is having the same accessibility to facilities, which are ultimately paid for by public finances. Apart from what is decided by the Board, I am sure this is a matter of policy pursued by the government. A social worker also helps to give guidelines to people who frequent the Authority. It also helps reduce red tape, as this hinders and does not help people in need of housing. On the contrary the extra paperwork kills them.

 

Further questions

Housing is without a doubt a vast subject and there is a lot to fix. For example, I am unaware if any form of research on Housing Estates takes place, to better understand who is living in them and what kind of help they need?

We also need to see if the Housing Authority, considers families living in overcrowding housing or in substandard housing. If so, how many families are in overcrowded units and others in substandard? What can be done to improve the quality of life of these residents? We also need to take into consideration any applications that are interested in exchange and if so, what is being done in a concrete manner?

People need concrete answers to their queries. After all, Housing goes beyond the stones. The issue of Housing directly impacts the human being.

 

Ivan Bartolo is a Nationalist MP

 

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