Joseph Muscat’s ‘top priority’: The empty promise of social housing since 2013

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat declared on Sunday that there are 14,000 people living in “unacceptable conditions” in Malta and that helping them was a priority, but he ignored the fact that not a single housing unit has been built since the Labour Party’s electoral victory in 2013.

“This is on the top of our agenda,” Muscat said. “It one of our priorities to ensure that not even a single person is left who is in a state of poverty.”

Muscat also claimed that the government has taken the decision to increase the amount of new social housing units by 700. This is far from the first time he has made promises like this, and yet to date, none of the promised social housing units has materialised despite construction suffocating the Island.

In September 2016, at a meeting between Finance Minister Edward Scicluna and President of the European Investment Bank(EIB), Werner Hoyer, it was announced that a €50 million loan was being given to the government. Social housing units were also promised in the 2016 Budget.

That same year, Muscat addressed the May Day mass meeting and promised the crowd that he “will bring in new social housing projects”.

In February 2017 the government again announced that they would be building 640 new social housing units, funded by the EIB loan and that they would be ready by the end of the 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,” a spokesperson for the Social Solidarity Ministry had said.

In May 2017, prior to the snap election, Muscat promised that if people voted for him, he would implement projects for social accommodation and made “social housing” one of his four key priorities.

This was even promoted in a video entitled ‘Keeping my promise – Social Housing’ which was posted on the Prime Minister’s Facebook page.

In 2018, Muscat announced an investment in social housing with a price tag of €50 million to build 500 social housing units that would come from the money made from selling Maltese citizenship.

At the 2018 May Day rally, he told supporters that excavation works for the 680 apartments were already underway at six sites, had been concluded at another six, and four more were due to start. These were the same apartments that were funded by the EIB that were meant to have been finished almost six months earlier.

Then in the 2018 Budget, the government promised to invest another €50 million that would create nearly 7,000 additional housing units. Promises of social housing units were also made in the 2019 Budget.

In February 2018, the government launched a scheme whereby owners of vacant properties could receive a grant of up to €25,000 to refurbish their home and commit to renting out that property to the Housing Authority for a period of 10 years. The scheme lasted only one year, and repeated the initiative first introduced by the former Nationalist government. There has been no announcement of how many individuals signed up for the scheme under Labour that was scheduled to end last February.

In February 2019, Muscat announced yet another social housing programme and called it “the biggest social housing investment in a quarter of a century”. When he made this statement, he had clearly forgotten the €100 million plus that was supposed to have been used already to build over 1,000 social housing units.

Then on 13 May, the Minister for Capital Projects Ian Borg said that 33 property sites around Malta were due to be renovated for a number of social purposes including social housing.

After six years in power and hundreds of millions of supposedly allocated funds, none have actually materialised. What happened to the EIB loan as well as the rest of the money that was supposed to go towards social housing is also unclear.

The lack of new social housing units is having a direct impact on the lives of those who need them. “I can’t hear him say those words anymore when I know they are empty promises. A friend with a young child who desperately needs social housing raises her hopes every time he talks about it to please a crowd. This makes me furious,” said a woman who contacted The Shift to draw attention to the issue.

The average cost of renting a one bedroom apartment in Malta is between €640 and €832, while the average for a three bedroom property can exceed €1,451. Yet, the minimum wage is one of the lowest in the EU at just €175.84 per week for those aged 18 years and over.

Malta also registered the lowest increase across the bloc, rising by just 1.9%, despite a strong economy and regular government announcements of “a surplus”.

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