On World Habitat Day, the Justice and Peace Commission of the Archdiocese of Malta, expresses grave concern at the predicament of the ever-increasing number of individuals and families in Malta, who are unable to access decent and affordable housing.
The rapid increase in rent prices over the past two years has led to increased homelessness, poverty and insecurity among the most vulnerable members of our community, especially those with limited support from family and social networks. It has also made it almost impossible for anyone living on minimum wage, which currently stands at under €750 per month, or even on an average full-time wage, to secure decent accommodation on the rental market, especially if they also have a family to support.
Access to decent affordable housing is recognised as a universal right, as an indispensable requirement for an individual to live a life that is fully human. The Church believes that this right is about more than just the necessity to have a roof over one’s head, as a home is “the place where a person creates and lives out his or her life, and serves to establish, in some way, that person’s deepest identity and his or her relations with others.”
The sheer inability to live independently and provide for oneself and one’s family, a reality that many people are experiencing today, even if they work full-time, is humiliating and demeaning and would undermine the dignity and self-worth of even the strongest and most emotionally secure person. For those facing adversity or struggling to adapt to life changing circumstances, such as those facing unemployment, physical or mental illness, family break-up, or the loss of home and country, it is often completely soul-destroying.
While social housing and other forms of sheltered accommodation, like those run by the Church in Malta, are no doubt essential forms of support for people in difficulty, they should be exceptional measures reserved for those who are truly unable to live independently and for as short a time as possible. It is nothing short of tragic that, because of the lack of affordable housing especially for those with low income, many shelter residents, are condemned to a life of institutionalisation and dependence that often lasts for months if not years.
The Justice and Peace Commission urges government to ensure that immediate action is taken to address the root causes of this phenomenon, in order to ensure that all are able to access housing that is adequate to their needs, at a price they can afford.
It is clear that this problem is complex and cannot be solved simply by the provision of more social housing. Whilst this might aid in the short term, these solutions in turn have huge impact on our communities, such as stigmatization, more construction in virgin land and an
unnatural transformation of the community.
The Commission believes that it is necessary for the government to undertake serious research on the rental market and to explore different ways, in collaboration with other stakeholders including the private sector, of ensuring the availability of affordable, adequate housing.
Action should also be taken to ensure that workers earn a wage that is sufficient to live with dignity and that those on social benefits are able to meet their basic needs, including housing.
While profit is no doubt important, it cannot and should not be the only factor on which decisions impacting the quality of life of people living in Malta are based. Nor can the strength of our economy be measured only in terms of the amount of wealth generated, and enjoyed, by the few. The extent to which all are able to live with dignity should also be taken into account.
A country that sacrifices individual rights and wellbeing at the altar of profit is not rich, no matter how well its economy thrives, it is very poor indeed because it has lost sight of that which is most valuable – the inalienable dignity of the human person. The Justice and Peace Commission urges government to use the profits being generated as a source of solutions, for the good of all, particularly the most vulnerable.
 John Paul II, Letter to Cardinal Roger Etchegaray on the occasion of the International Year of Shelter for the Homeless (December 8, 1987).