I was contacted to meet a family a few weeks ago. I duly visited their home in St Julian’s. I entered and was shocked. Belongings were packed, basic household appliances were missing, and poverty was screaming in silence at me. An eerie atmosphere haunted the house, despite its good natural light.
This was not in some peripheral forgotten far away land: This was bang in the heart of St Julian’s, just a few metres away from the parish church.
The son, 50 years old, and his mother, 75, told me their situation. They are both sick, and he will soon be operated upon. He cannot work, she was widowed some years ago. They did not have enough money to bury the husband and father, so she had to sell her wedding ring and other stuff to do so. They have been living here for 37 years, after the Housing Authority gave them this house instead of anther one which had structural damage.
This house in St Julian’s had damages too. This and various legal cases about the property left them impoverished, and the Court of Justice recently said that they must be evacuated whilst Government must provide alternative housing for them. So far this has not been forthcoming, and they are afraid they will end up in the street unless urgent action is taken by the Authorities.
The Authorities: The two leaders in this sector are Parliamentary Secretary Roderick Galdes and Housing Chief Leonid Mackay. Both are gentlemen, and I have no doubts about their genuine commitment to the sector. The problem is elsewhere.
The problem is that Government is so happy congratulating itself about the best of times that it is downplaying the realities being faced by many people on the ground. There currently is a waiting list of around 3,300 people for social housing and another 600 who desperately need to change their social housing. The former includes persons suffering in silence, some of whom I met and who need security in their precarious lives. The latter include people I visited, for example elderly persons who live high up and have no lift. To these one must add the increasing number of people who are being evicted from their homes due prohibitive rent costs and the many young middle-class and working-class youth who keep living with their parents because they cannot afford a house loan or rent.
In such a situation, one must agree that it is the duty of Government, and not of property owners to assist persons in need. The current Government knows how to speed things up when it wants to: The introduction of the sale of passports and the widening of roads are just two cases in point. But when it comes to social housing, so far five years have been wasted. And while the price of property has become prohibitive for many, the risk of homelessness or substandard housing is real and rising.
The Nationalist Party is doing its utmost to help such persons in need even from its role within opposition. Being in politics gives you the privilege to meet people with a myriad of different realities, some of which are very different from what we see on our screens. Spokesperson Ivan Bartolo, myself and others refer cases to the authorities, as we believe that solidarity should not succumb to pique. But as Malta’s alternative government we also promise to ensure that everyone will have decent housing once we are entrusted to power.
This article appeared in The Malta Independent