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Govt says GSD ignores complex context to score political points on housing

Photos by Johnny Bugeja

The Gibraltar Government yesterday hit back at Opposition criticism over the allocation of rental flats to vulnerable people, insisting that applicants on the medical and social housing lists made up 35% of the properties assigned last year.

The GSD had called for a “radical” shake-up of housing policy after Action for Housing raised concern that applicants on the medical lists had been waiting for “a very long time” for a government property, often while residing in sub-standard accommodation.

The group said the allocation system was failing some of the most vulnerable people in the community, a position echoed by the GSD.

But the government said its Housing Department had allocated a total of 176 properties last year despite the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, adding that 25 of the families rehoused were on the medical list and another 36 families were on the social list.

It accused the Opposition of jumping “on every conceivable bandwagon” in order to criticise the government “without doing their homework properly”, adding that the allocation system was the same one that had been in place when the GSD was in government.

The government highlighted two “distortions” which is said the Opposition had ignored in its criticism.

The first is caused by the room composition requirements of families on the waiting list and the need to match that with the room composition of the flats that become available, it said.

The second is that there are many instances when flats are offered to applicants on the list and those flats are rejected, meaning properties may instead be allocated to people lower down on the list.

The Government said it allocated flats to eligible applicants in accordance with the order and priority on the respective waiting list and based on the availability of suitable flats.

It was “absurd” to suggest that the Government should be able to house everyone on the medical lists immediately because this would require the Housing Department to have available at any time at least 10 empty properties of each size and room composition.

Additionally, the Housing Department was often faced with “immediate and exceptional” individual and family circumstances, some of which were often raised by the Opposition itself.

The government also said that its policy of granting nationality to a large category of persons who were long term residents – something the GSD had “completely ignored” while in office – had increased the waiting list and given housing rights to residents who previously did not enjoy them.

“This Government took the view that an important and proud component of Gibraltarian society could not continue to be treated in this way,” the government said.

“This is something that the Opposition should be ashamed of and the gap between what they say now and what they did then confirms a degree of political hypocrisy that knows no bounds.”

It reminded the Leader of the Opposition, Keith Azopardi, that he had served as a minister in a government that once barred Action for Housing from even meeting with the Housing Department.

“Once again I am astounded with these comments and with the unfounded attacks made by the Leader of the Opposition and the Shadow Minister for Housing,” said Steven Linares, the Minister for Housing.

“I am extremely satisfied at the record achievement of this Government in relation to naturalisation, housing and dealing with people who have both medical and social issues.”

“I am proud of being a Minister who conducts clinics where I offer people and their families the opportunity to discuss and address their issues.”

“I will therefore reaffirm my staunch commitment to tackle those issues.”

“The Opposition are taking advantage of the most vulnerable on housing matters for their own political ends as they seem to do on just about everything else.”

“I am naturally very concerned about the plight of the individual highlighted by a recent report [on GBC] and will ensure that we help that person as much as we will all others who are waiting for an allocation as quickly as we can.”

“I am making arrangements to meet the individual in question and will be looking into the liability of the landlord in question for the state of the rented property.”

Mr Linares said the GSD had disregarded the facts in a bid to turn a positive story into a bad news story.

He said the fact that 176 properties had been allocated in the past year “is an achievement in itself and something to be proud of”, adding the Government was very grateful to the many public servants and private sector employees who helped to make this possible.

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