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Don't blame the housing market for homelessness - new Housing Authority boss

Former Caritas boss says 'changing traditional ties' are behind rising homelessness

Leonid McKay, incoming chief of the Housing Authority. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

Leonid McKay, incoming chief of the Housing Authority. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

The worsening phenomenon of homelessness is caused by the erosion of care in the community not problems in the housing market, according to the incoming chief of the Housing Authority.

It was “changing traditional ties” in the family, Church and NGOs that was leading to the homelessness problem, said Leonid McKay. The government also showed less care – though recently the “benevolent” State had become more “generous”.

The Federation of Estate Agents sounded a warning last week about tenants at the lower end of the income ladder being priced out of the rental market and pushed into poverty. Potential renters were being outbid by groups of eight or more foreigners, who had no qualms about living in overcrowded apartments.

“Prices of property, both for rental and for sale in Malta, have now increased to beyond that which the average Maltese can afford,” the federation cautioned.

Mr McKay conceded that those renting are the most vulnerable but insisted studies have shown “no direct correlation” between homelessness and the housing market. “If so, the indicators of poverty in Malta would register an increase, rather than a positive decrease,” he added.

Mr McKay did not divulge any plans to address homelessness or the current housing “crisis” – as it is described by the federation – saying he would only comment once he took over his new role in September.

He also refused to address specifically the recent case of a woman who ended up on the street after being denied entry to a public shelter for having a pet, among other reasons.

The mother of two children was making €500 a month and was unable to make ends meet.

We need to formulate policy making on evidence-based research, not based on sensationalism

Mr McKay said he would not comment on the anonymous case but warned against “using people for sensationalism”.

“We need to formulate policy making on evidence-based re-search, not based on sensationalism,” he said.

READ: Caritas boss McKay warns about rising rental costs

Mr McKay also declined to comment on how to help the 120 homeless migrants who ended up on the streets after a clampdown by the Planning Authority.

After being evicted and without State aid, some of the migrants begged to return to the Qormi farm where they had been housed in “inhumane conditions”, according to the PA.

Last week, the Prime Minister announced the government was working on sending the migrants back to Italy. Insisting that he fully agreed with the PA enforcement, Mr McKay said the State needed to learn to deal with these new realities, adding “no one should live on farms”.

The incoming Housing Authority head noted, however, that he did not have information about the migrants to comment on how to help them.

Upon starting his tenure, Mr McKay will face long waiting lists for social housing. Statistics from the Parliamentary Secretariat for Social Accommodation show only 210 of 3,290 people were taken off the waiting list in 2017. Some 29 people have been on the waiting list for 25 years.

Asked how he plans to tackle the waiting lists, Mr McKay pointed out that the Housing Authority was currently undergoing a profiling exercise on those waiting for social housing.

“There are cases of people who do not need to wait for a social housing apartment but can benefit from another scheme of the authority,” he said.

“I strongly believe we need to provide a service to everyone who is eligible,” Mr McKay added.

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