Matthew Zerafa’s career in housing finds its roots in 2017, when he joined the Secretariat for Social and Affordable Housing, forming part of the Ministry for the Family. “I was appointed Private Secretary, part of a technical team which delivered important policy reforms, which were a first in the sector. We developed the Housing Reform of 2020 together, and carried out a study of the housing situation in Malta at a time when data was quite limited,” he recalls.
After that, he was appointed Head of Secretariat at the Ministry for Social and Affordable Housing. “From then onwards, we have continued working to develop the idea of housing in Malta, not just solely focused on social housing but from an affordable housing perspective, because ultimately, it’s all about affordability, irrespective of your status within society,” Matthew maintains.
Sharing his analysis of the situation locally, he reveals, “over the past 10 years, we have seen a rapid increase in the housing sector, both in terms of sales and in terms of the newly reformed rental market, which prior to 2014 was not even considered. In the past, we had a lot of holiday homes for the Maltese, and this situation has changed.” Describing his current role at the Housing Authority, it was a natural move for Matthew to step in and lead this organisation forward. Matthew highlights how broadening the public’s understanding of the Authority is amongst his main aims. Traditionally, he says, the Housing Authority has always been viewed from a social housing allocation perspective. “So, if you need housing and you cannot afford to fork out a monthly rent or buy, then you need a government tenement. You knock on the Housing Authority’s doors, and you’re given a place – for free and for a lifetime. That was the situation,” he says.
However, the Authority’s work extends far beyond that, the CEO states, including creating schemes and opportunities for people based on factors such as age and income, as well as the analysis of data that is now available in relation to the rental market. “We also build properties,” he notes, affirming that the Housing Authority is one of the biggest developers in Malta, as well as the biggest landlord, which comes with a lot of responsibility.
“So, we develop, we allocate, we are landlords, we offer a number of schemes for prospective buyers in the affordability area, and we’ve also installed a newly reformed Housing Development Fund, which is focused on ESG and sustainability development goals,” he adds, delving deeper into what is currently keeping him and the Authority busy. “We are continuing to do what we’ve been doing, but we are slowly introducing these concepts as well. Apart from that, we are leading several reforms, to push the sector forward and come up with new ideas.” As part of this, the Housing Authority is working closely with several NGOs and stakeholders including the Curia, Richmond Foundation and Kamra Tal-Periti to establish sustainable communities, the CEO affirms, pointing out that the main issue is not housing itself, but the social injustices or difficulties that create burdens.
Making use of the data that is being gathered on the sector, Matthew continues, “we have also recently joined Housing Europe, and can measure our progress alongside our European counterparts and the Mediterranean. This way, we can also push forward several initiatives in this field.”
Drawing on his Master’s in Psychotherapy, Matthew believes that the qualities of a good business leader are irrespective of the sector you’re in. “We believe society requires a lot of personal contact and being present. This becomes critical to the role and the area that you’re working in, but being sensitive to people’s personal changing realities will help you to align these with your values and mission,” he says.
Moving forward, I ask the CEO about the major opportunities and challenges that will face the Authority in 2024 and beyond, and he notes that, with an increase in budgets being allocated and a widening portfolio, the team has more responsibility than ever. To make sure they succeed, the Authority is embarking on a fully-fledged digitization exercise forming part of a three-year plan targeted toward data sharing.
“Having data sharing capabilities with other entities will mean that we can better integrate our work, giving us better metrics and making us more efficient, while also enabling us to adjust our expenditure to have a more niche and targeted approach, simplifying our work and reducing bureaucracy. In a year’s time, we would like to be in a position where we have better data analytics and business intelligence to be more efficient and simplify our processes. That is our vision. We remain a mission-driven organisation though – that mission is to provide and sustain decent social and affordable housing opportunities promoting stability and supporting social mobility.”
This interview forms part of the Digital 50 Business Leaders project. These high-profile interviews are exclusively featured online at MaltaCEOs.mt, highlighting 50 distinguished conversations with business leaders, CEOs, and emerging entrepreneurial talents. Through these discussions, we aim to showcase the remarkable journeys, achievements, and successes of Malta’s business leaders.
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