A €50 million investment will see the first of 640 new social-housing units ready by the end of the year, the Social Solidarity Ministry said.

This will be the first substantial drive in years by the Housing Authority to build social housing units as the government responds to growing criticism that it has failed to address the problem.

Construction will take place on 16 sites owned by the Housing Authority across Malta and for which building permits have long been in hand. One of the permits dates as far back as 2005.

“Under the previous administration the Housing Authority stopped building new flats despite having plans and building permits for each of the 16 sites,” a ministry spokeswoman said. However, she dismissed criticism that the government had dragged its feet on the matter when the authority already had planning permits in hand. The project was mentioned in Budget 2016 and reiterated in the Budget for this year.

“Since April 2013, the Housing Authority has been reviewing plans to maximise the use of space in the available sites and adapt the new units to the profile of those seeking social accommodation,” she said.

There are approximately 3,000 applicants waiting to be given social housing

The exercise resulted in a 20 per cent increase in the number of apartments that could be built on the 16 sites. Original plans had catered for 570 units.

The sites are in Attard, Luqa, Siġġiewi, Qrendi, Birkirkara, Msida, Żurrieq, Kirkop, Cospicua, Naxxar and Żebbuġ. Some localities contain more than one site.

There are approximately 3,000 applicants waiting to be given social housing and another 500 who already live in Housing Authority flats and are asking to change to bigger or smaller units.

The authority had no units available when the new administration took over in March 2013, the spokeswoman added.

While some of the sites are small infill pockets between existing buildings, there are larger areas such as those in Luqa, Msida and Cospicua.

“We only made slight changes to plans for the infill sites so as not to disturb the existing urban setting, but in others, such as the Luqa site, we redesigned the plans and increased the housing units to 231 from the 170 originally envisaged,” the spokeswoman said.

Childcare centres are planned for some of the areas, such as Msida, while the Cospicua site will have a one-storey, underground car park. In Siġġiewi, a cluster of one-bedroom apartments – targeted for the elderly – will also have a reception area, a new concept for community living.

The ministry said that 25 per cent of applicants were seeking one-bedroom flats, while another quarter sought three bedrooms. The remaining 50 per cent wanted two bedrooms.

Tenders for excavation works on all the sites will be awarded by end March, while tenders for construction are being evaluated.

“By the end of 2017, some units should be available on the smaller sites,” the spokeswoman said.

The money for the project will come partly from the European Investment Bank and the Council of Europe Development Bank.

kurt.sansone@timesofmalta.com

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