Houses for homeless lack basic services

Most contracted housing allocated ‘before election’

Almost a third of properties contracted by the Housing Authority under last year’s Skema Kiri programme lacked basic water and electricity services, Times of Malta has learnt.

Figures seen by this newspaper show that 89 of the 310 properties leased by the authority last year did not have water and electricity connections – in breach of one of the requirements of the scheme.

The Housing Authority launched Skema Kiri in January 2012 to entice landlords to lease vacant property to it for a minimum of 10 years. Such properties were then sublet, at a heavily subsidised rate, to people who qualified for social housing, according to the authority’s priority list.

Apart from benefitting from a secure rental income, the owners were given a massive discount on their withholding tax, paying just five per cent instead of 35 per cent.

According to the scheme’s conditions, one- to three-bedroom properties had to be in a finished state and well-maintained, had to be compliant with development permits and also sanitary regulations.

“The property must enjoy good quality finishes and be ready to move into, without any additional expenses to be incurred by the authority. It must have been vacant for at least six months,” says one of the conditions.

Asked how the properties in question could have been handed over to people without basic facilities, a spokeswoman for the Family and Social Solidarity Ministry told Times of Malta the properties had been contracted by the previous government.

She said that 269 of the 310 contracted properties, including the 89 without water and electricity services, had been allocated prior to the March 9 general election. About 23 were allocated following the change in government.

Times of Malta asked how these could have been allocated and whether the authority had vetted the properties before accepting them but no replies were forthcoming at the time of writing.

The spokeswoman said 18 properties were still due to be allocated to someone.

The scheme made specific provision for cases where landlords proposed properties that did not have water and electricity available. In such cases, the owners were meant to apply for meters at their expense within six weeks from being notified that their property had been chosen for the scheme. However, this did not happen and properties were allocated to beneficiaries without the basic necessities. Two of them, who spoke to Times of Malta on condition of anonymity, said they had been forced to take the apartments they were offered.

“I was told that if I refused I would have missed the opportunity for social housing and would have had to start from scratch,” said one woman, who spent six months living without water or electricity supplies.

She said she washed her clothes at her mother’s house twice a week and lived on take-outs because, although she had a small two-burner gas stove, she did not have any water to wash the dishes and the utensils. Sometimes, she would fill large jerry cans with sea water to fill the toilet’s flushing.

The ministry spokeswoman did not answer questions on whether more properties without water and electricity were being allocated by the Housing Authority.

“This government is totally committed to ensuring affordable and dignified social housing for those who need it through the strengthening of existing scheme but also through the introductions of new ones,” she said.

Sources said it took about five to six weeks for water and electricity meters to be installed at such properties after applying for them by providing ARMS Ltd with the compliance certificates and declarations signed by an architect.

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