Address by the General Secretary of the C.C. of AKEL S.Stefanou at the meeting on housing policy
29 May 2023, AKEL C.C. Press Office, Nicosia
Thank you very much for your presence here tonight. In particular, allow me to thank the keynote speakers of today’s seminar and to welcome our friend Françoise from the Workers Party of Belgium (PTB/PVDA) to Cyprus, thanking her for her own participation.
Most of us here have met again within the framework of the campaign AKEL has been organising all through this period on the housing problem. Our campaign is not being conducted just to highlight the problem. People are fully aware of the enormous difficulties the majority of society faces in obtaining housing. Our campaign is being organised to point out what needs and what can be done to provide solutions for those who don’t have access to housing.
The first thing that needs to be done is the elaboration and formulation of a comprehensive and targeted housing policy. Only then can the groundwork be laid to effectively address the problem.
To tackle a problem, one needs to first and above of all identify its magnitude and root causes.
In the current juncture, at the same time as there is an increased demand for housing, there is insufficient building units to buy or rent at affordable prices. The cost of acquiring land, urban or otherwise, and construction costs is sky high. Furthermore, the number of households unable to secure dignified housing, either by building or renting, is increasing. This is because at the same time as the cost of acquiring a home has risen sharply, wages have remained stagnant.
The young generation is particularly affected by the ongoing housing problem. The dilemma between getting a home and starting a family dominates the decisions of many young people because the overwhelming majority of them cannot have both when they should have the right to both. The absence of a comprehensive state housing policy and the obstacles to finding the necessary funds to acquire a home, combined with the recent increases in interest rates, create a very difficult situation which is assuming the dimensions of a housing crisis for the popular strata of society.
Apart from young couples, the housing crisis is affecting primarily single parents, students, refugees and the vulnerable groups of the population. A few years ago the phenomenon of homelessness was unthinkable in Cyprus. Today, however, it is becoming an everyday and common phenomenon.
We therefore need to immediately promote policies that provide specific and effective answers to tackle the housing problem. These policies must respond to the rising cost of acquiring housing by providing avenues for financing, access to affordable housing and generally helping people to acquire housing, which – let us not forget – is supposed to be a basic constitutional right.
At the centre of our proposal for a coherent state housing policy is the establishment of a Single Housing Agency which will be responsible for elaborating and charting housing policy at a strategic level. At the same time, this Agency will deal with issues related to coordination, targeting, priorities and the overall evaluation of all projects in an organised, methodical and systematic manner.
We recently heard the President of the Republic proceed to such an announcement. We hope that a proposal will come before us that does indeed provide for a body that will have the capacity and the powers to carry out all the above functions.
It is our belief that the role of the Single Housing Agency can be played by the Land Development Agency, by certainly strengthening its powers, adequately staffing it and providing it with all the necessary tools. Pending the creation of this body, there is a need for the Agency to develop parallel programmes and projects to provide outlets for housing for the lower and middle strata and vulnerable groups.
Along with the Land Development Agency there should be management of the Housing Finance Agency. It should once again return to fulfilling the social role for which it was formed and has operated for years. That is to say, to fund the acquisition of housing for young couples, small families and vulnerable groups, a role that was abandoned because of the Agency’s conversion into a bank.
Another important part of housing policy is the aspect relating to the refugees, who were displaced from their homes and properties as a result of the 1974 Turkish invasion. AKEL has moved quickly and effectively all through the past period on the issue concerning the existence of dangerous apartments in the government refugee settlements. This intervention has yielded results as it has provoked the reaction and mobilisation of the government and state apparatus. In addition, AKEL raised for discussion the issues relating to the need to strengthen state refugee housing policy, which was downgraded during the previous government’s term of office.
In addition to the need for repairs/renovation and the immediate tackling of the serious problems specific refugee settlements face which were left to the ravages of time, there is a need for the State to readapt government refugee policy to address modern standards.
This adjustment must include:
- The modernisation and digitalisation of procedures.
- The amount of grants and subsidies that are granted must be increased in the revision of any policy.
- The relevant criteria must be changed to cover a greater number of beneficiaries.
Our Party’s “Housing For All” campaign offered us the opportunity to meet and discuss housing policy with relevant involved stakeholders/movements, but also with society in general, the young generation, young couples, refugees, borrowers, etc. The aim was to convey, but also to enrich our proposal for a comprehensive and socially-oriented housing policy. This is what we expect from today’s debate, and we look forward to hearing everyone’s contributions with great interest.
I note that we have already forwarded our proposals to the government and a meeting with the Minister of Interior is scheduled for 13 June to discuss them in detail.
Thank you again for your presence and participation.