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Letter: Covid-19, Housing and the Local Plan

Published on: 20 Apr, 2020
Updated on: 20 Apr, 2020

From Brian Creese

Chair, Guildford Labour Party

One of the unreported inevitable issues arising from the Covid-19 pandemic is that the housing crisis will become much worse. Of most immediate concern is the plight of the millions in the private rental market.

Homeowners have a mortgage relief plan that gives them a three-month holiday, and all that renters have been offered is a three-month moratorium on evictions. The mortgage holiday is also open to private landlords who can suspend their outgoings for three months while continuing to charge their tenants, although government asks landlords to “show compassion” to them.

With so many renters now being forced onto reduced incomes or the unliveable level of 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 built-up debt?

At the end of this period there will likely 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. This is yet another example of how this Conservative government has funnelled relief through landlords, banks, employers and utility firms and “hoped” they will pass it on to the rest of us. 

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.

The manifesto also 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.

To include some of these lessons in our Local Plan is not too late, thereby ensuring some good comes from this dreadful crisis. Safe, secure and genuinely affordable housing should be a human right rather than a commodity. As long as house-building is dominated by the big builders and 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.

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