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Government in dock over spiralling rents

The government came under fire on Monday for lacking a comprehensive housing policy, as MPs voiced concern over spiralling rents, particularly in Limassol.

They said the Interior and Labour Ministers should attend their next meeting to explain what they were doing to resolve the problem.

“We want to hear at our next meeting what the Interior Ministry is planning to do regarding housing policy, what the Finance Ministry is doing to help people acquire a roof, what the Labour Ministry is doing to support vulnerable groups,” Interior Committee president Eleni Mavrou said after the committee’s meeting.

She said rents in Limassol, and to a lesser extent in Nicosia, are higher than European cities such as Amsterdam and Barcelona.

Average rents for apartments  rose by 12.5% islandwide in 2017. In Limassol they jumped by 25%. For houses, rents rose by 9.2% islandwide and 10.20% in Limassol.

The average rent for one bedroom student accommodation  in Nicosia is €560 — nearly the €580 average in Amsterdam, the committee heard. In Limassol, the average is a higher €590.

An Interior Ministry spokesman said that the ministry was working on a housing scheme with town planning incentives. It would target specific areas, such as those close to the green line areas.

As regards rents, she said that the social services have increased the rent allowance by 15%, and a proposal will soon go to cabinet for a further 10% increase.

The welfare services received about 130 applications for housing in 2017 and 80 persons had to be housed in reception centres. Of the 80 individuals, 60% were third country nationals, a Labour Ministry official said.

Individuals needing immediate shelter are accommodated in hotels, she added.

A study will be carried out on rents and the rent allowance will be adapted accordingly as part of the minimum guaranteed income.

To the remark that there were 4,000 applications for minimum guaranteed income still pending, she said that there were clear instructions from the minister to grant immediate help pending the examination of an application.

Lefteris Georgiou of the movement for the right to housing accused the ministry of inaccuracies. “High rents leave people homeless. We have a problem in Limassol,” he said.

A blind homeless man  was left homeless in Larnaca and was accommodated in a hotel after efforts by the movement, he added.

He said a landlord would ask  €600 for rent — two rents as an advance and another as deposit, meaning a tenant has to fork out  €1,800 to €2,500  for a  “hole in Limassol.”

Elias Athanasiou of the association of real estate agents said that the agents received complaints. A change in the law would help ease the problem, as with the current law protecting tenants landlords fear they may not be paid rent.

MPs spoke of a need for a comprehensive housing policy and urged the government to set up a service to help the homeless by offering temporary shelter to those in need.

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