For the first time, Malta will have a clear picture of its social housing applicants, through a study entitled ‘Profiling social housing applicants – Individuals applying for an alternative accommodation’, published by the Housing Authority which sought to understand and analyze the reasons why a person applies for social accommodation. The study clearly indicates that the need for social housing stems from the roots of other challenges and that it would not be enough to simply provide a family with a roof over its head.
Minister for Social Accommodation Roderick Galdes, in a speech delivered at a conference which brought together representatives of different entities under one roof, explained that for too many years the housing sector in our country has been offering a one-size-fits-all solution for different needs.
“From the very beginning of our work in this delicate sector, we realized that before we truly understand who the people on the social housing list were, we could not introduce measures that would make a difference in the lives of these families. Without being put in a context or at least being given some sort of story line, numbers alone could only cause confusion. That is why, once again, we have entrusted researchers and social academics to carry out this study, which is the first of its kind in our country.”
Minister Roderick Galdes explained how this study will serve as an indispensable guide which is meant to ensure that every decision taken is an informed one.
“We are speaking about peoples’ lives, therefore we must rely on research and evidence to achieve lasting results. In fact, based on the preliminary results, we have already designed several schemes that address the needs emerging from this study. These include a stronger private rental housing benefit and the 10% deposit on promise of sale for the purchase of a property scheme. This research has helped us change the way we do social policy.”
For his part Dr Vincent Marmara, a statistician and lecturer at the University of Malta, explained and presented the quantitative results of this study.
“About two-thirds of the applicants are single parents, wherein women are the predominant cohort. In fact, 75% of the applicants are all women. Roughly, the age of 54% of the applicants ranges between 26 and 45 years. Out of all the applicants, 39% are unemployed, approximately 29% have a full-time job and around 10% are employed on a part-time basis. From all the participants in this study, their average income is of €755 per month, whereas those living only on social benefits have an income of about €530 per month.”
Dr Maria Brown, a sociologist and lecturer at the University of Malta presented the qualitative part of this study. She argued that this study on social housing applicants which incorporated both qualitative and quantitative research methods is an achievement not only in this field locally but also on an international level.
“The link between owning a home and the Maltese culture has become very clear. Diversity between applicants also emerged even where numerically they are of the same category. For example, we have discovered that there are applicants who consider alternatives to what is traditionally understood as ‘government owned residences. We discovered more diversity: some of the applicants are parents and/or going through separation or divorce and/or are expecting a baby. Therefore, the deep-rooted problems of people going through these transitions will not be solved in a sustainable way by just giving them a home.”
Dr Brown concluded that the diversity and transitions that have emerged deserve to continue being researched beyond electoral cycles and with inter-ministerial initiatives and in collaboration with civil society.
In the closing speech, the Housing Authority CEO Leonid McKay spoke about how research has become the authority’s right hand.
“As a Housing Authority, two weeks ago we published the statistics of our first year as regulator of the private rent market as well as appointed an observatory that will prepare a detailed report on the private rental market in Malta. Today, we have published the profiling of all the social housing applicants. This is not just another ordinary research exercise; this research initiative went inside the residences where these people are currently living in and their wish to apply for social housing was given a context. We started implementing the results from the first conclusions of this research initiative in real-time. This study also confirms what we have been saying for the last few years, that giving accomodation might not be enough. We must continue addressing the roots of the challenges related to social accommodation.”
He concluded by saying that a study that remains only on print will not serve its purpose. This research inspired the Housing Authority to design new social housing units projects whose number of rooms were based on the results of the profiling of the applicants.