“The coronavirus epidemic has exposed the housing problem,” Rajni Lallah said in today’s LALIT Press briefing. “How can Government tell people to shelter at home when they have no home or live in over-crowding or in toxic asbestos housing? The Government’s over-reliance on tourism, a whole industry now closed down because of the epidemic, means that either, if the frontiers are opened too soon, the Covid epidemic will start again and they will have to be shut again so it is back to square one, or if not, untenable levels of unemployment will remain. All this makes the housing problem even worse than it was before. The only thing to do is to change economic strategy altogether.”
But in any event, she said, people are in need of housing. And the first demand LALIT has in that respect is that Government find out exactly how many people need housing.
Rajni proceeded to list the five demands LALIT is putting forward for housing, after an introduction to the Press Conference by Rada Kistnasamy. He said that housing was in the news because the State was pulling down dwellings erected illegally on State Land, even during an epidemic, while not recognizing the gravity of the ever-worsening housing crisis. At the same time, he said, the entire country is in a massive series of crises – because of the pandemic, the borders naturally have to be closed, and this highlights already existing food insecurity, it brings further unemployment, and since the epidemic brings the need to shelter at home for periods of time (when the epidemic flares up) and this highlights the housing crisis. All this adds to the existing housing crisis. And yet Government, with its recent Budget continues “Business as usual”. LALIT believes that the Government is in denial about the gravity of the situation.
National Register of Those with a Housing Problem
So, LALIT, in today’s Press Briefing at the party’s headquarters in Port Louis called on the Government at once to open a “National Register” so that people in urgent need of housing can put their names down. This way the size of the housing problem will become apparent to the Government. When Housing Minister Obeegadoo just announces, as all Governments for decades have done that, that he will build 12,000 houses, while there are still three-quarters of the 10,000 promised in the previous Jugnauth Government, it is just not credible. In any case, he does not even know the scope of the housing problem.
Rajni Lallah said that this demand for a “National Register” to be opened is important for a few specific reasons: Statistics Mauritius continues to ask a dumb question, “Do you pay rent?” and if you say “No”, you are put down as a “home owner”. And, since the closing down in 1993 of the State’s social housing institution, the Central Housing Authority (CHA), which used to rent houses to families, Rajni explained, successive Governments have all aimed at making people become “home-owners” instead. Couples who bought a housing-estate Site house, for example, in 1995 when they had four young children, have aged and their four children have each married and have had children, in turn. These four families, with the grandparents, often share the space that was originally quite cramped for one family. So, when they say they do not pay rent, they get noted down as being “home-owners” and the Government flatters itself by putting it out that 89.9% of Mauritians are home-owners. Because of the Government’s hideous policy of selling of land to the world’s billionaires, the price of land has rocketed out of reach of working class and even of professionals.
“So we need a National Register of those in need of housing”, she explained.
She presented a dossier to each journalist present. In it, for example, she shows the regulations and laws that mean subsidy is given to rich billionaires for housing, while being with-held from the working people of the country. She also showed the NHDC criteria for putting your name down for subsidized housing; these exclude all those who work on short contracts or informally as well as all those who are self-employed. The latter make up 180,000 workers, while half the working class works for small enterprises that do not even give payslips to show when applying to the NHDC. If you are living in a “lakaz zeritye”, you are often not eligible for an NHDC house because you are already supposedly a proud home-owner. The Government persists in refusing to face the reality of the housing crisis.
Build Housing for Rent, create a New CHA!
The intractable problem of “heirs’ housing” as people call it (lakaz zeritye) has recently been exposed for all to see, Rajni Lallah said. When the Central Electricity Board (CEB) called on everyone to bring land deeds to prove their home ownership, the queues wound their way around the various cities and a great anger built up because so many families do not have the land deeds in their names, and cannot have because there are a whole host of people who are supposedly” co-owners”. So, the Government had to both postpone the deadline and change the rules, now asking that the death certificate of the ancestor in whose name the deed is, be produced by the end of the year.
This is why LALIT is calling for the setting up a new CHA to build houses for those who can rent them. This way unemployed people can get proper work with job security, and all the while be building housing. This way, people with urgent housing needs like those living in asbestos housing, can have the option to rent a house of their own.
Requisition Sugar Estate Land and Set up Integrated Villages
LALIT also demands that Government requisitions land from the sugar estates for housing to be built around agricultural activities – planting and animal raising for food production. This will help with the urgent problem, made worse by the epidemic, Rajni Lallah said, of nation-wide food insecurity, as well as with housing and job-creation. About 100 such villages, each for 100 or so families would be a much better investment in the future than Government continuing to subsidise billionaires from abroad, or the lame duck sugar industry. Rajni shows in her accompanying dossier for journalists how sugar plantation covers 53% of the Island of Mauritius’ land surface, with 30% being scrub or forest; she also shows the history of how the Government has always had to pressure the sugar estates for land for housing throughout history.
Stop subsidising cane and sugar!
It is time for the Government to stop is subsidies, Rajni Lallah said, on cane and sugar. This industry gobbles up all the agricultural land and then becomes a burden on the State. The industry no longer provides proper employment, no longer provides revenue for the State, and no longer even brings in much foreign currency. So, it must be phased out. The land must be used for food security production (planting, animal rearing, and food preserving and transforming plants) and for housing.
Stop all Luxury Villa Gated Communities!
The Government’s subsidies on the very rich around golf-courses and other gated communities are truly obscene and must be stopped. They are a total waste of precious land of the country.
These, Rajni Lallah explained, are the five main demands of LALIT for housing. For each of the demands, Rajni Lallah produced a dossier for the journalists present. We will be uploading the documents on to our “Documents Section” shortly.
The Press asked pertinent questions, including about the nature of the subsidies on millionaire’s housing, what LALIT intends to do with the five demands, and
Present also for LALIT were Roland Fauzoo, Georges Herchenroder, Alain Ah Vee, Ram Seegobin and Lindsey Collen.
For the Press, there were journalists from Top FM, Le Mauricien, Radio Plus and MBC TV.