A landlord and a housing campaigner spoke to The Gibraltar Independent on what could be done to improve the condition of private homes on the Rock.
The debate has been raging ever since a GBC television programme revealed the state of mainly Moroccan accommodation in Gibraltar. After interviewing both sides of the debate we found that they both have one solution in common.
“The problem is that the landlords in effect provide the social housing for the government at the moment,” said landlord Charles Culatto. “We want the tenants to get a decent home because they’re living in squalor at the moment.
“It’s impossible to repair the homes to a decent standard with what we get at the moment. That can be as little as £50 and a maximum of £150 a month. The immediate solution is for government to build at least 400 one and two-bedroom rental properties.”
About half of the freehold properties in Gibraltar are under the rental control system as opposed to a government lease. “But there shouldn’t be any rent control in the private sector,” he added.
The landowner said one of the reasons that retired Moroccans still need a room here is to receive their hard-earned pensions and healthcare.
“They need to have an address here so they rent a room for £50 a month,” said Culatto. “Then they live in Morocco most of the time only coming here to pick up their pension and pay their rent. It’s a complete waste of money for the Moroccan tenant and the landlord.
“But that would be easily resolved. There could be a government hostel with each Moroccan having their own P.O. Box. Then each of them would be able to stay there the length of time they need to be in Gibraltar.”
The main problem with the Moroccan community is that even though many have been living in Gibraltar for over 40 years they were only given their British nationality five years ago. Until then they could not get on the housing list which means they are forced to live in these conditions until they go further up the list.
“The only places where they could live at the time was housing in the private sector,” said Henry Pinna, the former ombudsman who heads up Action for Housing. “They were gradually given housing but the demand is huge and the supply is very scant. That’s why the government should build more housing for them because otherwise the situation will remain stagnant.
“The government has built on the 50-50 scheme which are bought mainly by younger people. They also build for the elderly who do vacate their rented housing, but not enough homes are being released.”
The other option is to allow landlords to charge more for their properties so that some of that money can be invested in the upkeep of the buildings.
“If you do away with the government’s rent control, those people in these homes will not be able to afford to live there and will be evicted,” said Pinna. “The other possibility is to give rent relief to those people.
“But that would lead to landlords abusing the system knowing that if the tenant couldn’t pay up, the taxpayer would pick up the bill.”
With it being election year, parties will be looking to see how they can most benefit the community with their policies.
The Moroccan community must not be forgotten as they arrived in Gibraltar to help us during a critical time in Gibraltar history.
They might be needed again in the future so taking care of the most vulnerable should be a priority among our political parties.