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Our View: Wrong that refugees are given increasing rent help when people are homeless

Disy leader Averof Neophytou

Deputies decided to address rising property prices during Monday’s discussion of the interior ministry’s budget for 2019. The problem is not just rising rents in Limassol, about which much has been said in the past few weeks, but that houses and flats were now out of the financial reach of young, first-time buyers and low-income families. What is worse is that rents are set to rise further in certain areas in 2019, said Disy leader Averof Neophytou.

Interior Minister Constantinos Petrides said the government was working on a new housing policy, the aim being ‘accessible housing’, and it would be ready at the beginning of 2019. All he was prepared to say about this was that housing assistance for refugees would increase by 10 per cent from next year; the assistance increased by 15 per cent at the start of this year. Petrides acknowledged there were other sections of society with low incomes that also expected rent assistance from the state.

It is astonishing that refugees remain the main beneficiaries of government housing policy and nobody dares challenge this regime. Forty-four years after the invasion, the state is still offering housing assistance to people classed as ‘refugees’ even though they might not have been born in 1974. Those born after 1974 should not even be categorised as ‘refugees’ because they were never forced out of their homes. The only problem is that refugee status now has become a hereditary right and people with this status are eligible for state housing assistance, regardless of their income.

Akel deputy Eleni Mavrou complained at the committee meeting that only 56 per cent of funds earmarked for refugee housing were utilised. She also criticised the government for failing to implement its so-called ‘Unified Housing Scheme’ for non-displaced persons. “For the first time in decades we are seeing homeless people roaming the streets of Cyprus,” she said. But she was unable to see this as the consequence of most state funding for housing going to people with refugee status.

There would be a much smaller problem if the housing support for hereditary refugees (real refugees have all received assistance from the state in the past) was abolished and rent assistance was given to families with low incomes that genuinely needed it. It is wrong to increase the rent subsidy of refugees every year when there are homeless people roaming the streets of Cyprus.

At least there was one positive suggestion at the meeting. Neophytou, who is also chairman of the House finance committee, suggested the imposition of a €50,000 charge for every citizenship granted to a foreign national. The money could go into a fund that would help people with their rents without affecting fiscal policy, argued Neophytou. It was an excellent idea, considering the huge amounts of money made by law offices and estate agents from the citizenship by investment scheme. The plan, if approved, could raise up to €35 million a year and hopefully would go to the needy and not to people with refugee IDs.

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