The Socialist 18 March 2020 |
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Coronavirus housing emergency - suspend rent and mortgage payments, seize empty homes
Protesting against the effects of the housing crisis, photo Paul Mattsson (Click to enlarge)
David Maples, housing worker and Unison union rep (personal capacity)
It didn't take coronavirus to create a housing emergency, but it does create new issues. The Socialist has already called for workers to receive full pay and benefits.
Nobody should lose their home because of Covid-19. This means that lenders should be required to suspend mortgage payments, and landlords should be required to suspend rent payments, where necessary.
Housing benefit and Universal Credit claims should be paid in full, with requirements to re-verify information suspended. Housing benefit overpayments should be written off.
The 'minimum income floor' should be scrapped for self-employed workers.
The court process for mortgage lenders and landlords seeking possession orders and evictions should also be suspended. The government should give extra funding for local councils to set up hardship funds to compensate individual landlords who suffer genuine loss, and these should be democratically controlled by committees involving workers, unions and community groups.
These measures would also help to take pressure off frontline workers, and could contribute to reducing the need for face-to-face contact. Many councils and housing associations lack technology such as Skype or video conferencing, which should also be introduced.
Housing workers should not be torn between trying to help vulnerable households and protecting their own health.
A decade of austerity, and the lack of a fightback from Labour councils, has meant that many local authorities and housing associations have a smaller and older workforce - who will be vulnerable themselves.
And they are ill-prepared to deal with a crisis. This lack of preparedness was shown vividly with the failure to rehouse Grenfell residents in permanent accommodation.
In very cold weather, and some very hot weather, there is provision to provide short-term accommodation for rough sleepers. This should be extended at least for the duration of the coronavirus crisis.
However, many rough sleepers are suspicious of short-term offers of accommodation. What they need is good-quality, genuinely affordable, permanent accommodation, with support to manage tenancies if necessary.
As with households in temporary accommodation, this could be done by taking over empty homes, as was suggested after the Grenfell disaster. Self-isolation is a pipe dream where households are already overcrowded.
Land and building firms should be nationalised to build good quality, affordable, environmentally sustainable housing to prevent this situation arising again - to meet the needs of people, rather than profits for a few.