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Housing situation demands solidarity - Charles J. Scicluna, Mario Grech,Joseph Galea-Curmi

We bishops would like to share our thoughts about the housing situation in our country, particularly on the difficulties faced by our families, young people and foreigners among us, who struggle to find accommodation that they can afford to rent or buy.

In doing so, we are inspired by Pope Francis, who in his encyclical letter on the care for our common home, Laudato si’ (2015), speaks about the problem of housing and writes: “Lack of housing is a grave problem in many parts of the world… since State budgets usually cover only a small portion of the demand. Not only the poor, but many other members of society as well, find it difficult to own a home. Having a home has much to do with a sense of personal dignity and the growth of families. This is a major issue for human ecology” (Laudato si’, par. 152).

Our first appeal is addressed to Maltese society. In the housing sector we have emergency situations where fami­lies and the elderly cannot meet the rapidly escalating rent prices and consequently are ending up on the streets; where young people, sons and daughters of workers, do not qualify for a bank loan because their salaries cannot guarantee the monthly payments; and where people who are going through a crisis like a separation, mental health problems or an addiction, rely on the rental market because they either do not have their own property or do not have social housing. God forbid that we become indifferent when faced with these dramatic situations that are creating a new type of poverty while also destroying so many people’s hope, especially that of our young people.

Our second appeal is addressed to all politicians, be they in government, in Parliament, or in local councils. This is the time and the issue that should unite you all in order to find practical and effective solutions for the urgent cases that require planning in the short, medium and long term. A timely regulation of the rental market and provision for sustainable housing would give the people who are worst hit by this crisis, the dignity of having a suitable roof over their heads. The housing issue should help us rise to the occasion to demonstrate that we are all capable and willing to work together for the common good.

The housing issue should help us rise to the occasion to demonstrate that we are all capable and willing to work together for the common good

Our third appeal is addressed to property owners and developers. Everyone has the right to generate capital and to use property to increase material gain. However, this should not happen without restraint. If, at times, the law governing the economy may be blind and operates without scruples on the principle of demand and supply, we Christians, who have a social conscience, should also have a heart and mind that exercise restraint on the rates that regulate the buying and renting of property according to just and equal criteria, underpinned by responsibility and solidarity. What does it profit you in gaining the whole world, when He who will judge you in justice and truth will tell you: ‘I was living in your property giving you your due and you turned me out on the streets to satisfy your greed?’ What does it profit you in paying foreigners a pittance an hour for their work while at the same time depriving them of their rights; or what does it profit you in turning entire families out on the streets in order to make an alternative income of thousands a month, all the while flaunting your generosity by donating substantial sums to your parish? Do you honestly think that Christ rejoices in such offerings?

Our fourth appeal is addressed to tenants. The duty of tenants living in rented properties entails taking care of the property to the best of one’s ability; paying the rent on time; settling the utilities bill; and leaving the property in good shape without resorting to causing damage as a vindictive parting shot. Social justice also demands that one does not unnecessarily resort to social housing to the detriment of those who really are in dire straits. Whoever abuses of the social welfare system through deceitful means is guilty of stealing while also putting an unjust burden on the same welfare system.

Our fifth and last appeal is addressed to the ecclesial communities. We invite them to work hand-in-hand with civil society in order to find answers for emergency situations and to choose and implement adequate policies for the future. It is heartening to see that parishes and religious orders are using their available properties as night shelters, hostels and homes for people in need. For a number of years, the Church in Malta too, through its Emigrants Commission, has been providing accommodation to around 400 migrants. Caritas, among other Church entities, constantly cooperates with government and the private sector so that shelters like Dar Papa Franġisku and Dar Maria Dolores continue to operate and flourish according to emerging needs. It is also very encouraging to note that lay people are offering their properties in response to this social cause. We must, however, make a greater effort. Today more than ever, the Church needs to lead by example.

The housing situation demands a response of unity and solidarity from everyone, starting from us Christians. We need to work together to find solutions that ensure that no one is left without an adequate and dignified shelter in our country.

Mgr Charles Scicluna is Archbishop of Malta, Mgr Mario Grech is Gozo Bishop and Mgr Joseph Galea Curmi is Auxiliary Bishop.

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