Almost 100 housing academics call on government to ‘prevent human catastrophe’ over coronavirus

Almost 100 housing academics from across the UK have written an open letter to government calling for more decisive action to prevent a “humanitarian catastrophe” as the coronavirus outbreak takes hold. 

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Almost 100 housing academics from across the UK have written an open letter to government calling for more decisive action to prevent a “humanitarian catastrophe” as the coronavirus outbreak takes hold #ukhousing

Housing academics sign letter calling on government to 'prevent human catastrophe' #ukhousing

The authors have called on the government to take clear financial steps to protect homeless people and prevent others losing their homes as the economy is battered by the shutdown.

It comes after the government acted to ban evictions from social and private housing for three months.

They said the measures may include:

  • The use of empty housing and unused hotel suites for homeless people, to make sure everyone is housed safely and can self-isolate in a sanitary environment. These should be requisitioned if necessary.
  • Protection for occupants against financial vulnerability, default on rent and mortgage payments, and interest on arrears, through mortgage and rent freezes and the provision of a basic income for all.
  • A freeze on all evictions under all applicable laws, including those from asylum and refugee housing and Gypsy-Traveller sites, and all repossessions and repossession proceedings for a sufficient period.

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  • A moratorium on arrests for rough sleeping and suspension pending repeal of the Vagrancy Act 1824.
  • Removal of legal barriers so that anyone who is at risk of, or is already homeless, can access self-contained accommodation.
  • Affirming the right to urgent maintenance work on housing under all conditions including self-isolation, and providing guidance and resources to protect workers.
  • Ensuring adequate provision of pay, access to Covid-19 testing kits, resources and information to all frontline housing and homelessness workers and volunteers as soon as possible.
  • Providing resources and guidance to address the mental health impacts of self-isolation, particularly for vulnerable groups such as the LGBTIQ+ community, disabled people, older individuals, and refugees and asylum seekers.
  • Urgent steps to respond to a potential rise in domestic violence for those forced to self-isolate, including dedicated helplines, ongoing engagement with relevant organisations, provision of safe homes, and training for the awareness of all relevant public employees to this issue.

The government has moved to ban evictions from social and private housing, but has not yet provided assurances regarding the welfare system to ensure people can continue to pay their rent if they lose work or income.

Arrears built up will not therefore result in eviction during the period, but will require a “repayment plan” to be established in the future.

The letter follows an intervention from Leilani Farha, UN special rapporteur on adequate housing, who described housing as the “frontline” in the battle against coronavirus and called for urgent action from states.

Dr. Alex Baker, postdoctoral researcher in Urban Studies and Planning at the University of Sheffield, and a signatory to the letter, said: “The public is working hard to protect those at risk on the ground: cancelling events, setting up mutual aid groups, and organising to work from home wherever possible.

“Some are now forced to consider rent strikes. These efforts to support and protect each other must be backed by the government’s mass mobilisation of resources and guarantees of humanitarian protection at this time.”

The letter is available in full below.

Housing academics letter to government on coronavirus

Housing academics letter to government on coronavirus

During pandemics such as COVID-19, people who are homeless are more vulnerable to illness, and less able to take preventative measures, than those in secure housing.

Not everyone in the country has a safe and secure home to stay in, and many are only one payday away from falling into rent or mortgage arrears.

Housing and homelessness researchers call on the UK fovernment at all levels to take action now to prevent homelessness, and to introduce a comprehensive set of measures to ensure the safety of homeless people at this dangerous time.

Such measures might include:

 

  • The use of empty housing and unused hotel suites for homeless people, to make sure everyone is housed safely and can self-isolate in a sanitary environment. These should be requisitioned if necessary.
  • Protection for occupants against financial vulnerability, default on rent and mortgage payments, and interest on arrears, through mortgage and rent freezes and the provision of a basic income for all.
  • A freeze on all evictions under all applicable laws, including those from asylum and refugee housing and Gypsy-Traveller sites, and all repossessions and repossession proceedings for a sufficient period.
  • A moratorium on arrests for rough sleeping, and suspension pending repeal of the Vagrancy Act 1824.
  • Removal of legal barriers so that anyone who is at risk of, or is already homeless, can access self-contained accommodation.
  • Affirming the right to urgent maintenance work on housing under all conditions including self-isolation, and providing guidance and resources to protect workers.
  • Ensuring adequate provision of pay, access to COVID-19 testing kits, resources and information to all frontline housing and homelessness workers and volunteers, as soon as possible.
  • Providing resources and guidance to address the mental health impacts of self-isolation, particularly for vulnerable groups such as the LGBTIQ+ community, the disabled, the elderly, and refugees/asylum seekers.
  • Urgent steps to respond to a potential rise in domestic violence for those forced to self-isolate, including dedicated helplines, ongoing engagement with relevant organizations, provision of safe homes, and training for the awareness of all relevant public employees to this issue.

 

Similar measures have been enacted by local and national governments elsewhere, and have been called for by over 20,000 members of the public, the UN rapporteur on housing, and charities such as Crisis. We are all determined to use our knowledge and skills in the fight against this disease and the long-term effects it will have on our society. But Governments must understand that business as usual will not continue; the spread of this disease has revealed to all that the right to secure housing is a shared risk and responsibility. While people at a local level are pulling together, the government controls the resources and ability to make sure the worst-case effects of this pandemic can be avoided. Now is the time to act to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe.

 

Signed:

 

1. Dr. Alexander Baker, University of Sheffield

2. Dr. Samuel Burgum, University of Sheffield

3. Ryan Powell, University of Sheffield

4. Dr. Emma Ormerod, Newcastle University

5. Dr. Asa Roast, University of Leeds

6. Dr. Stuart Hodkinson, University of Leeds

7. Dr. Mara Ferreri, Northumbria University

8. Dr. Alex Vasudevan, University of Oxford

9. Dr. Michele Lancione, University of Sheffield

10. Dr Peter Matthews, University of Stirling

11. Prof. Phil Brown, University of Huddersfield

12. Dr Kim McKee, University of Stirling

13. Dr. Stephen Hincks, University of Sheffield

14. Dr Gordon MacLeod, Durham University

15. Dr Helen Jarvis, Newcastle University

16. Professor Colin McFarlane, Durham University

17. Dr. Victoria Cooper, The Open University

18. Dr Andrea Gibbons, The University of Salford

19. Dr Jenny Preece, University of Sheffield

20. Prof. Loretta Lees, University of Leicester

21. Dr Debbie Humphry, Kingston University

22. Dr. Melissa Fernández Arrigoitia, Lancaster University

23. Dr Jonathan Silver, University of Sheffield

24. Dr Richard Goulding

25. Professor Jenny Pickerill, University of Sheffield

26. Hon Prof Michael Edwards, Bartlett School of Planning, UCL

27. Dr. Barbara Lipietz, Bartlett Development Planning Unit, UCL

28. Dr Michaela Benson, Goldsmiths

29. Dr Alexandre Apsan Frediani, Bartlett Development Planning Unit, UCL

30. Prof Ben Campkin, UCL Urban Laboratory

31. Dr. Sarah Keenan, Birkbeck

32. Dr Iqbal Hamiduddin, Bartlett School of Planning, UCL

33. Dr David Madden, LSE

34. Prof Adriana Allen, Bartlett Development Planning Unit, UCL

35. Dr Peter Garside, Kingston University

36. Dr. Daniel McCulloch, The Open University

37. Professor Katherine Brickell, Royal Holloway, University of London

38. Prof. Hyun Shin, London School of Economics

39. Professor Isobel Anderrson, University of Stirling.

40. Dr Oli Mould, Royal Holloway, University of London

41. Dr Ammar Azzouz, University of Bath

42. Professor David Robinson, University of Sheffield

43. Dr Andrew Wallace, University of Leeds

44. Dr Glyn Williams, University of Sheffield

45. Dr David Roberts, Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL

46. Dr Jenny Hoolachan, Cardiff University

47. Professor Alex Marsh, University of Bristol

48. Dr Zheng Wang, The University of Sheffield

49. Dr Madeleine Pill, University of Sheffield

50. Professor John Flint, University of Sheffield

51. Dr Paula Meth, University of Sheffield

52. Amparo Tarazona Vento, University of Sheffield

53. Dr Mel Nowicki, Oxford Brookes University

54. Dr Amy Beckett, University of Sheffield

55. Hannah May Fletcher-Poole, University of Sheffield

56. Dr Tom Simcock, Edge Hill University

57. Dr. Peter Mackie, Cardiff University

58. Dr Jordana Ramalho, Bartlett Development Planning Unit, UCL

59. Dr Tom Slater, University of Edinburgh

60. Dr Andy Inch, University of Sheffield

61. Alison Leech MA Leeds Beckett University

62. Dr Stephen Green, CRESR, Sheffield Hallam University

63. Dr Gareth James, CaCHE, University of Glasgow

64. Dr Bob Smith, Cardiff University

65. Dr Tom Moore, University of Liverpool

66. Dr Phil O’Brien, University of Glasgow

67. Dr Laura Kilby, Sheffield Hallam University

68. Dr. Bilge Serin, University of Glasgow

69. Dr Adriana Soaita, University of Glasgow

70. Dr Richard Dunning, University of Liverpool

71. Dr Alison Wallace, University of York

72. Professor Rose Gilroy, Newcastle University

73. Professor Annette Hastings, University of Glasgow

74. Dr Joe Penny, Queen Mary University of London

75. Ruth McLeod, Bartlett Development Planning Unit, UCL

76. Dr Jennifer Harris, University of Bristol

77. Dr Chris Foye, University of Glasgow

78. Dr Hamish Kallin, University of Edinburgh

79. Dr Alison Pooley, Anglia Ruskin University

80. Dr Ella Harris

81. Dr. Kavita Ramakrishnan, University of East Anglia

82. Dr Sally-Anne Francis, Anglia Ruskin University

83. Dr. Melanie Lombard, University of Sheffield

84. Oliver Bowling, Heriot Watt University

85. Dr Craig Gurney, University of Glasgow

86. Professor David Adams, University of Glasgow

87. Dr Thomas Verbeek, University of Sheffield

88. Dr Sally Cawood, University of Sheffield

89. Anna Minton, University of East London

90. Dr Penny Bernstock, University of West London.

91. Professor Aoife Nolan, University of Nottingham

92. Professor Richard Phillips, University of Sheffield

93. Tim White, London School of Economics

94. Dr Jaya Klara Brekke, Durham University

95. Milo Bettocchi, University of Nottingham

96. Dr Toby Butler, Birkbeck, University of London

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