No fewer than 1,700 single mothers were waiting for housing, parliamentary secretary for social accommodation Roderick Galdes said on Saturday.

Addressing a conference on rent and affordability by the Catholic Voices network, Mr Galdes noted that 80 per cent of Maltese were already homeowners.

While some 30,000 households were being rented, Mr Galdes said that just 7,000 of those were being rented by Maltese people.

However, secretary general of the Federation of Real Estate Agents  Simon Debono said authorities were rushing to hide the truth about how many people were in housing. The White Paper on rent reform, with all its good intentions, could enrich the rich.

Read: Rent reform: minimum lease periods but no fixed prices

The Federation had a list of some 2,000 people living in garages, he said. “These are not people from lower social classes,” he said. “These are people who wear jackets and ties and go to work every day,” he added.

He encouraged the Catholic Voices group to help those in poverty, stressing the Bible made several references to helping the poor.

Joseph Bartolo, form Alleanza Kontra l-Faqar, said a woman who was undergoing separation told him she was spending 70 per cent of her wage on rent.

Mr Bartolo said the problem was no longer confined to areas of poverty. Middle-class earners could also no longer afford to buy or rent.

Housing Authority head Leonid McKay noted incentives, though fundamental pillars of help, alone would not be enough to help others.

He also hit out at recent proposals, saying smaller social housing dwellings would encourage people to leave housing. This was not the case, he said. "In fact, an increase in social benefits has shown an increase in unemployment," he added.

Caritas head Anthony Gatt also noted there were more and more people living in poverty. He told the audience he had come across three cases of people seeking shelter during the past week.

"I spoke to a woman who just got separated and her former partner is not helping her out," he said. "She had to move and overnight, she was in a crisis," he added.

Northern region suffers the most

The seminar also presented initial findings from a House Rental Index by Aaudit firm ARQ group.

The firm looked at 5,300 property transactions between 2015 to 2018 and analysed apartments, penthouses and maisonettes.

They found that the Northern region suffered largest increase in rent prices. The firm’s managing director, Jean Paul Fabri, noted the influx of foreign workers to the Northern area influenced the prices of the area.

Malta's northern region stretches from Swieqi and Pembroke to Mosta, Naxxar, St Paul's Bay, Mellieħa and Dingli. 

There was a great risk rental costs were rising faster than wages, Mr Fabri noted, adding labour supply and an increased population affected the demand for housing.

The study’s findings recommend that housing supply is increased, either by adding Public Private Partnerships to provide social housing, or reforming planning rules to address the market gap.

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