The GSD Opposition continue to jump on every conceivable bandwagon in order to criticise the Government without doing their homework properly. This is obvious from the comments that they have made on housing allocation issues.
The Leader of the Opposition and the Shadow Minister for Housing have simply attempted to turn a positive good news story into a bad news story with a complete disregard for the facts.
The fact is that the Government managed to make 176 housing allocations during 2020 despite the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing lockdowns. This is an achievement in itself and something to be proud of and the Government is very grateful to the many public servants and private sector employees who helped to make this possible.
A considerable proportion of those allocations, contrary to what the Opposition have suggested, were made precisely to people on the medical and social waiting lists. Indeed, there were 25 families rehoused from the medical list and a further 36 from the social list, making up 35% of housing allocations last year! It is obvious that the Opposition do not know what they are talking about and that they will simply hit out at the Government no matter what the Government does.
It is important to recall that the system of waiting lists that is in place today is the same system that was in place when the GSD were themselves in office. There are two distortions which the Opposition are aware of but do not say. 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. The second is that there are many instances when flats are offered to applicants on the list and those flats are rejected for one reason or another. In those circumstances, the person in a higher position on the waiting list may not move and others below may be allocated a flat first.
Therefore this means that allocations are granted in consideration of different list categorisations. The Government allocates flats to eligible applicants in accordance with the order and priority on the respective waiting list and a based on the availability of suitable flats. Additionally, the Housing Department are often faced with immediate and exceptional individual and family circumstances that may arise from time to time. Indeed, some of those cases are often brought to the attention of the Government by the Opposition itself!
The good news is that notwithstanding the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government have endeavoured to address and resolve issues so as to avoid anyone finding themselves in a precarious situation, and that 176 families have been assisted in the process.
It is absurd to imply that the Government should be able to house everyone on the medical A+ list immediately. This would require the Housing Department to have available, at any time, at least ten empty properties of each size and room composition so that applicants do not have to wait one minute longer than necessary. The space constraints of Gibraltar, quite apart from anything else, make this a ridiculous notion which is totally impractical.
It is also important to note that the policy decision taken by this Government to grant nationality to a large category of persons who were long term residents is precisely what has increased the waiting list and bestowed the right to Government housing on residents who previously did not enjoy that right. The Government maintains that this was and remains the correct course of action to have taken. When it was their time in office, the Opposition completely ignored this question as if it did not exist. This Government took the view that an important and proud component of Gibraltarian society could not continue to be treated in this way. 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.
Moreover, the hypocrisy of the Leader of the Opposition himself appears to have no limits. He does not seem to recall that he was a Government Minister in an administration that once barred Action for Housing from even meeting with the Housing Department.
The Minister for Housing, Steven Linares, said: “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. 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 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.”