There has been renewed focus on social housing, and consequently, waiting lists have been slashed by a third in just two years, according to Housing Authority CEO Leonid McKay.
He was speaking to presenter and academic Andrew Azzopardi in the latest edition of his radio programme, Andrew Azzopardi on 103. Azzopardi, the dean of the University of Malta’s Faculty for Social Wellbeing, opened by questioning whether social housing was a “monster” of an issue Malta hadn’t yet gotten a handle on.
McKay, who has been at the helm of the authority since 2018, suggested that this was not the case and highlighted that in Malta, more than 80% of households were homeowners. But Malta also faced another reality: a segment of people who could not keep up, and which the state had a responsibility towards.
Azzopardi questioned why some appeared to be privileged and others not in this front, but McKay focused on the latter, observing that various issues – including financial, family and mental health concerns – could render people’s housing prospects bleak. He also argued that one issue was that for many years, the state sought to be as hands off as possible.
“For many years, we left too much in the hands of the market, in a bid to see the state intervene as little as possible,” McKay maintained. “So there was limited stock, because little attention was paid to social housing over the years.”
But he argued that this scenario was being reversed, with increased funding for social housing initiatives.
McKay also emphasised the need to see social housing as a temporary solution, until people could get back on their feet, though Azzopardi questioned whether this was viable and whether people would be evicted after a certain period.
The Housing Authority CEO argued that this was not the correct assessment: the issue was to prevent the creation of social dependency. Pressed further by Azzopardi, McKay argued that his experience was not one of people being reluctant to move on, but of lacking the opportunity to do so.
McKay then observed that while the authority had a waiting list of 3,200 individuals two years ago, the number had been brought down to 2,000, not least as a result of an increased allocation of funds.
He also observed that the authority was not only building new social housing projects, but touted a particular benefit of its Nikru Biex Nassistu scheme, through which the authority rents housing units from the private sector for social housing purposes. The scheme, he pointed out, ensured that social housing would not be concentrated in particular areas – such as the Inner Harbour Region – as in past years.