Saturday, June 25, 2005

Netto promises Housing for the people

Government to clampdown on public housing speculators * New body to tackle anti-social behaviour

Public housing remains a crucial and integral part of the Government’s agenda, and in this financial year, Gibraltar will see major developments taking place that will consolidate these plans said Jaime Netto, Housing Minister. And new measures will be introduced to avoid abuse of Government housing.

Soon law will prevent government sitting tenants from investing in home ownership for the purpose of sub-letting whilst maintaining residence in Government accommodation.

Mr Netto said that the government is determined to continue upgrading its existing public housing infrastructure, whilst also taking into account and considering, important new emerging demands through the construction of low cost housing.

“This is our benchmark for future generations and these dividends will provide the justice that they deserve over the course of this government’s administration.”

Housing Law

Last year the Ministry for Housing commissioned a consultant, to carry out a study into the laws administered by the Ministry and to put forward proposals for the widening of the Ministry’s powers needed to “effectively address the ever increasing and complex housing problems and improving controls on public housing.”

Mr Netto said that the new legislation will provide amongst other things, for the following:

- Provisions to serve a direction on an employer of a tenant who is a judgement debtor as a result of his arrears of house rent; this is commonly known as an ‘Attachment of Earnings Order’.

- Provisions to create an offence to any person who occupies premises without authority or gives false or misleading information in an application for housing

- Decanting provisions where the premises are required either for social, economic or in the public interest of the Government

- Provisions to make an offence where a tenant carries out unauthorised development in his premises or in the immediate vicinity

- The Creation of a Housing Appeals Tribunal; and

- The merger of the three statutory committees into one. The constitution, procedure and role of the Housing Allocation Committee would be re-provided and reinforced.

- The introduction of new legislative provisions to prevent Government sitting tenants from investing in home ownership for the purpose of sub-letting whilst maintaining residence in Government accommodation.

Anti-Social Behaviour

Proposals have also been submitted to tackle the different levels of anti-social behaviour in public housing estates.

Mr Netto told the House that such regulations establish the need to prepare and publish anti-social behaviour policy and procedures.

“In formulating such policy and procedures, the Ministry for Housing would need to act in close co-ordination with the Anti-Social Behaviour Group (a new statutory body) comprising members from the Royal Gibraltar Police, Ministry for Social Affairs, Department of Education and Training, Ministry for Employment, and Gibraltar Health Authority, amongst others,” said Mr Netto.

Under the arrangements the Ministry for Housing would document the history of the perpetrator and detail the acts of anti-social behaviour. They would be able to interview victims, witnesses and perpetrators (including the parents of children and young persons) and take a range of positive actions. Failing everything, the Ministry for Housing would be able to make an application to the Court for an anti-social behaviour order, an exclusion order or a parenting order. The Ministry for Housing would be under a statutory obligation to consult the Anti-Social Behaviour Group before the application of any of the three orders. The orders would be effective for a maximum of two years or less as the Court may prescribe. The regulations would also contain penalties for breaches on any of the orders.

Mr Netto said that at the same time the Anti-Social Behaviour Group would also analyse, in individual recurrent cases, the source that triggers such acts of anti-social behaviour with a view to addressing the root of the problem.

“This could mean assisting the individual person or family in a manner that draws together the various synergies from various Government departments and other bodies with a view to bringing that person or family into mainstream social values of behaviour.”

The Police, Social Workers, Education Welfare Officers and Mental Health Practitioners, have been consulted as regards the proposed legislative and administrative arrangements put forward for tackling anti-social behaviour and there has been wide consensus that the proposals provide an effective response to this behaviour, he said.

In order to develop the administration process, the Government is to create an “Enforcement Unit” within the Ministry for Housing, in order to provide the secretarial and legal resources to discharge its functions.

Empty Houses

Mr Netto said empty flats in Gibraltar. Indeed, there appears to be a misconception on the numbers and the reasons why these appear to remain empty. He gave the example of where a sitting tenant may have opted to reside permanently out of choice in their second home in Spain and said the Ministry for Housing is closely monitoring these cases and a number of flats have already been recovered through the courts for subsequent allocation to applicants on the waiting list. A process that is lengthy, costly and complex.

Secondly, there are flats that are awaiting refurbishment by Buildings and Works but he added that this department has made substantive inroads in reducing the numbers of outstanding flats awaiting repairs.

And thirdly, once a tenancy is signed, it can take up to three months thereafter for the said flat to be allocated. This tends to give an impression of many empty flats when in this instance is not the case.

Mr Netto went on to say that there are empty flats within the private sector which many think are government’s. There are also properties that are beyond economic repair and are awaiting demolition.

Old St Bernard's

Government will later in this financial year consider proposals for the whole area around the former St Bernard’s Hospital site and the Police Barracks blocks towards the potential embellishment and application for a reusable resource, Mr Netto told the House.

New Housing

Mr Netto insisted that Government will fulfil its manifesto commitment in constructing decent new homes.

“Government will not cut corners when it concerns major financial investment for its people. This Government will continue steering its policy diligently, and it will succeed in constructing low cost homes that our community will be proud of. This is our mission,” he said.

Over the next four years he predicted the following occupancies at low and medium cost: Rosia Court 33; Sandpits 12; Carter House 12; Tangier Views 12; South Pavilion 9; Europa Pass Battery 16; F Block ONH 4; Waterport Terraces 396; Albert Risso House 140; Devil’s Tower Site 170; Chilton Court 32; Gov’t Pre-War tenders 30; and Europlaza 160.

With other expected recovery of flats he estimated a total of 1,316 units of accommodation.

Meanhwhile, Mr Netto confirmed that the Ministry for Housing will be publishing an ‘Annual Report’ for the benefit of tenants and said he will continue meeting with established Tenants’ Associations “as the best form of communication interface for tackling tenants’ needs” and is encouraging the formation of Tenants Associations.


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