Tuesday, 6 February 2018

The Social Housing Issue

Every so often, we come across an article in the local media concerning a person or a family that is living in terrible conditions. The place they live in may not have the basic resources to be able to live comfortably. The building may be old and require a great deal of maintenance which is way beyond the budget of the current inhabitant/s. This issue is not something new. Indeed, we have come across stories involving extremely poor living conditions under all types of governments.

Whenever an individual or a family is living in conditions whereby they lack electricity or water, urgent action needs to be taken. Telling such persons to go knocking on the doors of the Housing Authority to wait until an alternative dwelling place is allocated to them is definitely not an acceptable solution. According to an article which appeared on the Times of Malta in October 2017, the waiting list for social housing exceeded 3,200 applicants!

Over the last few months, the government has been talking about the construction of new apartments as part of its efforts to reduce the need for decent accommodation. I am quite sceptical about this type of solution. The building of new apartments costs a fortune to the taxpayer. Furthermore, given Malta's size, there is a limit on the number of new apartments that could be built; constructing even 700 new apartments will not be sufficient to tackle a waiting list of thousands of applicants! Moreover, notwithstanding all the talk about the system that is in place when allocating an apartment to a needy applicant, who could guarantee that no corruption would be involved during the allocation process? How could one be sure that no applicant is being favoured more than others simply because of one's political allegiance or because of family connections?

Another issue that is hardly mentioned when talking about the construction of new government housing is that of the maintenance cost. As time goes by, things start to fall apart or to crack. If the persons living in such places can barely afford to make ends meet, won't the taxpayer have to foot the additional millions of Euros that are required to carry out all the necessary repairs?     

Rather than spend millions of Euros taken from the citizens by means of taxes to build more apartments, I believe that alternative and hopefully more cost-effective ways of dealing with the need for decent accommodation could be identified. Until such time that local NGOs could provide emergency shelter to all those that can no longer continue to reside in a particular place until it has been repaired, the government could work on a different strategy. More specifically, the government could issue a tender to seek a contractor that is willing to carry out all the necessary repairs on a place that is no longer safe or decent to live in. Whilst the repairs are being carried out, the government could first check whether the inhabitant/s could live in housing provided by an NGO or it could cover the costs of alternative accommodation in a place that is equipped with the basic resources. Once the repairs have been concluded, the inhabitant/s could return to live in their former home.

Furthermore, it is also highly recommended that the government as well as local NGOs work together to offer training relating to home maintenance skills to all those who have received assistance. In this way, the inhabitant/s would be better able to prevent damage to their properties and to carry out a number of repairs themselves.

The above may sound quite simplistic. There are various cases and different circumstances that one needs to consider. True. Yet, it is often said that the longest journey starts with a step. And if we do not make any steps or, even worse, if we step in the wrong direction, many more people will continue suffering.  

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