‘We need to collect 400,000 signatures in Malta to encourage the EU to change the directive on social housing’, CEO of SOS Malta Claudia Taylor-East tells Newsbook.com.mt.
This is part of a much larger effort to collect one million signatures for the Europe-wide ‘Housing For All’, an effort addressing housing inequality across the European Union.
With their signatures, the campaign wants to encourage the European Commission to increase public access to social housing, improve awareness and documentation on housing needs and to enforce the Maastricht treaty criteria on, ‘public investment in affordable, public and social housing’
‘We need affordable housing. We have people living in the streets. There are immigrants sleeping rough, they don’t have affordable housing that they can enter into. Rental prices have increased,’ Taylor-East tells Newsbook.com.mt.
Key to their argument Taylor East explains, is that this is not just a problem facing migrants in Malta, ‘Maltese are facing this too.’
‘In the past we had a choice, today there is no choice. It’s difficult for young people to buy a new home or to get a home loan.’
Following the interview with SOS Malta’s CEO, the Budget 2020 document announced on Monday 14 October, said that first-time buyers struggling to get on the property ladder would be able to get an interest-free loan of the value of €17,500. This would be repayable over the period of 15 years.
Details on how this will work are still sparse as the Finance Minister said talks with the banks are still on-going.
Minister Prof Edward Scicluna also said that exemptions on stamp duty would be increased from the first €150,000 of a property’s cost to €175,000.
‘What did the targets mean to us when the strategy was launched?’
When asked about her response to the latest publication of the European Statistics on Income and Living Conditions in Malta (EUSILC), she questioned if the targets to eradicate poverty were still relevant to the government.
The EUSILC announced that over 78,000 people were officially below the poverty threshold in 2018, earning an average of €8,868 per year.
‘The numbers make me sad. They raise shocking questions about what the targets in the paper on poverty mean to us when the strategy for eradicating it was launched,’ Taylor-East asked.
SOS Malta’s CEO refers to the 2014 document which the government prepared on the way forward for eradicating poverty and rescuing those at risk of poverty in Malta.
Taylor-East explains that the first-year target had been to pull 26,000 of the 93,000 people mentioned in the strategy, out of poverty. ‘I found the approach ambitious,’ she said.
‘I think we need to look at how they featured into the Sustainable Development Goals and Agenda 2030, leaving no one behind. Our policies, our budgets need to be designed to be looking at those left behind,’ she added.
However, she explains that since Malta has joined the EU in 2004, poverty has been increasing across the EU bloc. From 2004 to 2018, the estimated number of people in poverty has grown from 60 million people to 120 million.
‘What does that tell us? Are our policies all wrong? Is EU not looking at those we’re leaving behind? Are we helping those most vulnerable? Are we researching those who need to be targeted? Are we designing our budgets to really target those who are living below the poverty line?’
‘Migrants can’t live in detention, so where do they go?’
Among SOS Malta’s efforts in overseas development, social integration, inclusion, volunteering and research, is also its work helping struggling migrants.
Taylor-East explains that the charity has strong connections with the migrant community in Malta and this is crucial when it comes to helping migrants leaving detention, facing eviction or struggling with work.
She asks if there are people in Malta who can provide some short-term accommodation to migrants whether it’s a spare room or an empty house, ‘do we have that sense of altruism.’
‘Who is going to come forward and say yes. “I have an extra room in my house. I can offer a bed to a migrant.”,’ she asks.
In previous occasions SOS Malta has posted on social media that there were cases they were hoping to accommodate on a short-term basis.
‘It’s complicated. The minute you post that on social media asking for migrants, we’re attacked.’
Coming back to a previous point, Taylor-East explains that while people attack them about this, it is not just migrants, ‘the Maltese are affected.’
‘What if young Maltese people can’t buy a home? What if an elderly person has to move out?. these are Maltese problems. There are situations where people have been renting for many years and suddenly their rents rise… We need to act and do something about this.’