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New affordable housing project sparks political clash

Gibraltar Photo by Eyleen Gomez

The GSD has described the Gibraltar Government’s new affordable housing plans as a “repeat” of promises made to the electorate in its now “mothballed Blue Waters Project”, drawing strong rebuke from the Government who insisted the GSD was “deeply jealous” of its housing record.

The GSD initiated the clash as it questioned the affordability of the Government’s plans to construct 665 flats on the eastside.

There followed a series of barbed exchanges as the Government hit back, defending the new development against the GSD's “unjustified criticism”.

Newly established party – Together Gibraltar – also meted out its own criticism of the Government’s affordable housing policy.

In a similar manner to the GSD, Together Gibraltar flagged the “inflated selling prices” of the flats and said the low paid who genuinely need affordable housing would struggle to meet their monthly mortgage repayments.

Together Gibraltar said it would be the first party to provide a viable solution to safeguard future generations from being faced with an impossible problem.

“Together Gibraltar will ensure that affordable housing is what it claims to be and that it remains so,” the party said in a statement.

“We will ensure that these houses do not immediately jump up to market value for the benefit of a few and the detriment of all future generations.”

It added: “If this problem is not addressed and a long term, sustainable solution not found, the only option Gibraltarians trying to enter the property market will have will be to live outside of their homeland.”

Together Gibraltar’s criticisms did not draw any flak from the Government, which focused exclusively on the GSD.

In its statement the GSD had explained that the prices in the new development were above the historic prices of recent low cost developments and called on the Government to explain to the public how they arrived at the prices of up to £339,000.

The GSD said these prices will not be affordable to many young families and single parents, adding that it expects the Government to explain its rationale for excluding people from this opportunity.

“The GSD have been the strongest proponents for the building of homes for our people and we will always support homes that are truly affordable and accessible to members of our community,” the party said.

Additionally, the GSD said it had closely monitored and analysed previous schemes and had developed an “exciting new housing policy which has, at its core, fairness and sustainability as its guiding principal”.

It said it would make an announcement on this ahead of the next general election but that the scheme would ensure “truly affordable” homes for purchase alongside a ready supply of rental properties.

“We believe that, with the benefit of our experience, we can evolve the housing lists in their current form into a modern and workable response to the allocation of homes,” said Elliott Phillips, the Leader of the Opposition and shadow Housing Minister.

“Waiting eight years for the allocation of a home should be a thing of the past.”

“The Government’s further re-announcement of the same housing project is a desperate scramble to garner support at a time when they have forgotten the many who aspire to purchase homes at affordable prices.”

In hitting back last night the Government said its track record on delivering housing in such an “unprecedented way” only “shows up the GSD for their own shortcomings,” particularly in this important area of social policy.

The Government insisted that prices for new homes at Hassans Centenary Terraces have been set only in accordance with construction costs and with no profit.

There is no other basis of valuation other than the total cost of the development in relation to total built up area, it added.

The only costs of preparing the plot and revetment which are factored in are only those required for the estate, and even then they are only a proportion.

The Government said that all other costs will be met by the eventual developer of the Eastside, adding that it is not the Government who sets the prices but the cost of construction.

“Is the GSD saying that they would subsidise Affordable Homes even further, at tax payers’ cost?” the Government questioned.

“The policy of the GSLP/Liberal Government is that all homes are available to be purchased on a 50 / 50 basis and applicants will not be at a disadvantage if they choose to buy 50% only.”

Additionally, the Government said that within three days of launching the project and with six weeks still to go, there have already been more 1010 applications.

“This is not surprising given prices start at £44,500 (for a one bedroom), with most flats available at less than £150,000 (for up to 4 bedrooms) and maxing out at no more than £169,000 (for a 5-bedroom flat bought) on a 50/50 basis,” the Government said.

Chief Mnister Fabian Picardo said: “This demonstrates a real interest in this development by our community. It also shows we have got the design and the price points of the new estate right.”

Housing Minister Samantha Sacramento said the GSD’s statement was “incredibly disappointing” and made no sense.

“On the one hand they criticise capital and recurrent expenditure, yet seek that cost of construction not be recovered from those purchasing, despite the prices being entirely affordable,” she said.

“They also seem to suggest the taxpayer should further subsidise the construction costs by almost £80 million pounds. These are ‘cloud cuckoo land’ policies designed to be populist.”

“They are not serious policies designed to make affordable housing something the taxpayer can continue to provide.”
“The allocation criteria has been very carefully thought out and gives priority to Government rental tenants who release their Government flats.”

“In this way, flats are being recouped and provided to the housing stock. This is also a more efficient and cost effective way of creating available rental stock for the taxpayer than construction of a new building for rental by government.”

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