Rent, the econ­omy, and so­ci­ety – why the voices of for­eign­ers mat­ter

The Malta Independent on Sunday - - DEBATE & ANALYSIS -

own­ers. He is of course stat­ing that it is not a cri­sis be­cause it does not af­fect Mal­tese peo­ple, as the ma­jor­ity of for­eign­ers do not own their own prop­er­ties. One would think that the fi­nance min­is­ter would have a lit­tle more sense to re­alise that such com­ments are com­pletely and ut­terly non­sen­si­cal. It is also ap­par­ent that his com­ments just re­flect and smack of the lais­sez-faire at­ti­tude that mem­bers of the gov­ern­ment have to the rapidly de­te­ri­o­rat­ing qual­ity of life of many peo­ple (lo­cals in­cluded) on this is­land.

Of course, I can­not write about the rental cri­sis with­out men­tion­ing San­dro Chet­cuti, the president of the Malta De­vel­op­ers As­so­ci­a­tion, and an in­di­vid­ual who is to­tally op­posed to any kind of rent reg­u­la­tion. I won­der why?

When it comes to peo­ple that have power to im­prove the dire sit­u­a­tion re­gard­ing the rental mar­ket, I must won­der how many of them are land­lords them­selves. San­dro Chet­cuti, Chris Grech, do any of you pri­vately rent res­i­den­tial ac­com­mo­da­tion? Do you de­clare tax? Do you sign Form H? Have any of your ten­ants con­tacted the EU Ad­vi­sory Group re­gard­ing your rentals? Per­haps I should in­ves­ti­gate it in a bit more de­tail as I sus­pect that those in a po­si­tion of in­flu­ence have some­thing of a vested in­ter­est.

There is a rental cri­sis in this coun­try, and un­less steps are taken soon, it will con­tinue to get worse. Al­though it does have a big ef­fect on for­eign­ers liv­ing here, the peo­ple whose lives it re­ally dev­as­tates are young Mal­tese fam­i­lies, Mal­tese on min­i­mum wage, sin­gle moth­ers, and those liv­ing on so­cial se­cu­rity. The lack of so­cial hous­ing cou­pled with the av­er­age rent ex­ceed­ing the min­i­mum wage means that those on a re­stricted bud­get find them­selves in an im­pos­si­ble sit­u­a­tion. They are trapped in a cy­cle where they strug­gle to pay their bills and, due to the ever-in­creas­ing cost of liv­ing, they are un­likely to ever be in a sit­u­a­tion where they can af­ford to buy a home.

For us for­eign­ers it is an in­con­ve­nience. Those that don’t like it will even­tu­ally leave and take their wage pack­ets and ac­tive so­cial lives with them, and those that must, or choose to stay will be liv­ing hand to mouth and strug­gling to make ends meet. Ei­ther way, there is a cri­sis and this gov­ern­ment and in­di­vid­u­als like Mr Grech, Mr Chet­cuti, and Pro­fes­sor Sci­cluna, need to ac­knowl­edge it.

The fact of the mat­ter is that for­eign­ers are treated as sec­ond-class cit­i­zens in this coun­try. Rent prices in­crease the mo­ment the land­lord or agent knows they are deal­ing with a for­eigner; we usu­ally pay more for our util­i­ties, on oc­ca­sion we wait longer at the hos­pi­tal, and of course we take it on the chin when be­ing re­ferred to as “the for­eigner” or “il-bar­rani” in our faces. Whether the Mal­tese like us be­ing here or not is be­side the point. We are here, we pay (high) taxes, em­ploy lo­cals, con­trib­ute to so­cial se­cu­rity, are a part of the com­mu­nity, shop in your fam­ily busi­nesses, drink in your bars, eat in your restaurants, and shop in your shops, so we de­serve to be treated with re­spect and most of all, equal­ity.

In re­sponse to this dire sit­u­a­tion, a new ini­tia­tive has popped up on Face­book, the brain­child of Pa­tri­cia Gra­ham from Up in Arms EU Ad­vi­sory Group, and Craig Will­mott from Rental Rip Off Malta – Mhux Veru, it is called sim­ply “I Mat­ter”. Fed up of be­ing treated like sec­ond class cit­i­zens, pay­ing more for ev­ery­thing, and hav­ing no say in the way the coun­try is run de­spite con­tribut­ing as much as a Mal­tese cit­i­zen, they are call­ing for change.

They have cre­ated a logo and are ask­ing in­di­vid­u­als to at­tach it to a selfie and post it in the group ‘I Mat­ter’, and to set it as their pro­file pic­ture, should they so de­sire. They are also call­ing for for­eign res­i­dents in Malta to down tools for 24 hours in protest to show the gov­ern­ment that while we may be out­siders, we do mat­ter and our pres­ence here is a large and im­por­tant part of your econ­omy. If enough peo­ple get in­volved in this “strike” of sorts, per­haps those in the higher ech­e­lons of power may re­alise just what us lowly for­eign­ers con­trib­ute to this coun­try. It is a fan­tas­tic idea, and one that peo­ple should sup­port whole­heart­edly; we con­trib­ute to this is­land’s econ­omy, so­ci­ety, and com­mu­nity in a huge num­ber of ways and, as such, we de­serve to have our voices heard. We should never have to hear “go back to your own coun­try” when we voice an opin­ion, be it con­struc­tive or not.

I ex­pect to re­ceive the usual amount of abuse from my ev­er­re­li­able fan club, but this is a sit­u­a­tion that af­fects you all. Mal­tese his­tory is a mass of for­eign in­flu­ence – both in­vited and un­in­vited – and the pres­ence of out­siders is some­thing that has helped shape your coun­try to what it is to­day. The lev­els of re­sent­ment be­tween lo­cals and for­eign­ers in Malta are reach­ing epic pro­por­tions, but the truth is that the things we for­eign­ers are com­plain­ing about are things that af­fect you as well. The sooner we re­move the bar­rier be­tween the us v them men­tal­ity, the sooner changes can hap­pen here for the ben­e­fit of all of so­ci­ety– and no I am not talk­ing about the “a” word.

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