One of the unreported issues arising from the Covid 19 crisis is that it will inevitably make the housing crisis much worse.
Of most immediate concern is the plight of the millions in the private rental market. While homeowners have been provided with a mortgage relief plan that gives them a three-month holiday, all renters have been offered is a three-month moratorium on evictions. The mortgage holiday is also open to private landlords who can therefore suspend their outgoings for three months while continuing to charge their tenants – although Government asks landlords to ‘show compassion’ to their tenants. With so many renters currently being forced onto reduced incomes or the unliveable Universal Credit, their dilemma will either be how to continue paying rent now, or if their landlords are more understanding, how will they ever clear the debt built up? It is likely that at the end of this period there will be a spike in evictions and councils simply do not have the resources to cope with a big increase in the numbers in temporary accommodation.
It is simply another example of how this Conservative government has funnelled relief through landlords, banks, employers and utility firms and simply hoped they will pass it on to the rest of us.
The coronavirus crisis will undoubtedly make the housing crisis much worse. Even with the moratorium on evictions there will be a big increase in rent arrears as a result of tenants losing their jobs or being stood down for a period. Many small businesses will not reopen.
The low level of council homes (now less than 1.6 million in England) is a key problem when dealing with homelessness. Placing people in the private rented sector is much more expensive than placing them in council housing. The question of a large-scale council house building programme therefore becomes even more urgent when we emerge from the lockdown. The last Labour manifesto pledged 100,000 council houses a year funded by an annual grant of £10 billion. This policy now looks modest compared to current government plans and we would encourage this government to enact this Labour policy.
Similarly, our manifesto included a commitment to a review of Council housing ‘debt’ and promised to cancel the bogus £26 billion debt held by the Public Works Loans Board. Like the NHS debt, which was recently scrapped, this figure is arbitrary and unjustified. It needs to be removed to allow the Council House sector to start on a level playing field.
Safe, secure and genuinely affordable housing should be a human right rather than a commodity. So long as house building is dominated by the big builders/developers then most housing will be speculative, designed not to address a human need but to create a profit for companies that have made a fortune from Help to Buy.