A White Paper on the rental market has reached the stage where decisions are being taken on the way forward, Social Solidarity Minister Michael Falzon told parliament during a debate on the Housing Authority Estimates on Wednesday. However, the government would not seek to regulate the rental market or to intervene in it directly, but would restrict its involvement to guiding its direction.

Dr Falzon spoke on various schemes introduced by the government to assist persons to become homeowners for the first time, including the first-time buyer scheme and a subsidy to assist with loan repayments. He touted various social housing projects which would increase the country’s stock of housing units by 30%.

Housing Parliamentary Secretary Roderick Galdes accused the Nationalist Party of sabotaging one of these projects in Siġġiewi, where, he said, the Nationalist mayor was “obstructing” a block of social housing units from reaching completion by appealing against the project and by putting unreasonable conditions on contractors.

Opposition MP Ivan Bartolo said that it was unfair to allege that the Nationalist Party had done nothing on housing, calling the party a “pioneer” in the field and attributing to it the high rate of home ownership in Malta.

Mr Bartolo acknowledged that some of those waiting for social housing today had been waiting for over 20 years.

He referred to rising rental prices and but called for political intervention in order to ensure that prices remained at reasonable levels. Families, he said, were being faced with difficult decisions.

Even well-paid employees working in the gaming sector were feeling the pinch, he added.

The Labour Party’s socialist credentials could not be taken seriously any longer, he concluded, as he accused its MPs of being “champagne socialists.”

Opposition MP Claudette Buttigieg highlighted the disproportionate effects of the housing crisis on women, owing to a persistent gender pay gap which meant that women had less disposable income and lower pensions. Especially in situations where they were forced to seek accommodation of their own due to marital strife - a factor which Mr Galdes recognised as being a key reason motivating applications for social housing, particularly among women - women were increasingly vulnerable and often remained in abusive relationships to avoid the leaving the matrimonial home.

Social housing tax

Opposition MP Godfrey Farrugia questioned why the Government had guaranteed ElectroGas’s bank loans but was not guaranteeing those of youths wishing to buy their own homes. He called for a low-interest or interest-free system of lending to continue the trend of high home ownership in Malta, and argued that those who constructed large blocks of apartments should pay a tax which went for social housing.

Concluding, Mr Galdes asked for concrete proposals from the Opposition and laid much of the blame for the present situation at the feet of the previous Nationalist administration.

Former Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi had attempted to solve the problem by calling fair game on development in many areas which had been formerly ODZ, but this had not solved the problem as the increased interest in development had only spurred prices on, he said.

He called for a consensus on efforts to improve the current stock of social housing, asking the Nationalist Party to stop its obstructionism in Siġġiewi and to support efforts to end the heredity of social housing units.

Mr Galdes also gave details of many schemes to improve extant social housing units and to alleviate the current demand for housing through collaboration with the private sector. He compared the efforts of his parliamentary secretariat to the “generational leap forward” achieved by former Prime Minister the late Dom Mintoff in the 1970s.