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24 June 2020

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Housing: act now to cancel Covid crisis rents and debt

March for Homes, London, 31st January 2015, photo Paul Mattsson

March for Homes, London, 31st January 2015, photo Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge)

Suzanne Muna, Unite union housing workers' branch and Shac

Private sector rents in England hit a record high of 700 a month as the country headed into coronavirus lockdown, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Median rents in London were 1,425 per month. Six in ten renters have lost income in the pandemic, and arrears are mounting.

Tenant organisations are calling a day of action on Saturday 27 June to demand that rent be cancelled for the period of the crisis. This could prevent an avalanche of evictions when the current halt to eviction proceedings stops at the end of August.

Rent is already completely unaffordable, and tenants cannot afford back payments on top. Rent arrears built up during the crisis should be written off. "Can't pay, won't pay" is a fact, not just a slogan.

The London Renters Union (LRU) plans socially distanced protests and online events. In solidarity with the LRU, which represents private tenants, the Social Housing Action Campaign (Shac) intends to use the day of action to highlight the plight of housing association tenants. Shac was set up to unite people living and working in social housing or cooperatives to campaign on issues of common concern.

There is just no excuse for housing associations to initiate evictions on the basis of inability to pay. Before the pandemic, the sector was in excellent financial health, generating significant profits from rents and sales over a prolonged period.

Operating margins were at 25% on social housing lettings alone, and rent collection rates were 99.9%. Shac therefore demands that housing associations waive rents for those struggling financially, write off arrears, and avoid making evictions, even when courts reopen.

The size and finances of housing associations vary widely, and some co-ops and smaller associations will inevitably have tight margins. For these organisations, we should look to the government to underwrite housing association debt, as they did for the banks after the 2007-08 crash.

The government readily dipped into the public purse to provide a bailout of around 750 billion, including around 37 billion for RBS, Lloyds TSB and HBOS. This effectively nationalised the debt while allowing the banks to continue operating as distinct entities, retaining their own governance structures.

The same model could be used to support struggling associations and co-ops. Given the loss of social mission in the sector, any assistance must be bound to an increase in the democratic involvement of tenants, residents, and workers in the 'governance' (running) of the organisation.

The town of Ithaca in New York state has passed a resolution calling for the power to cancel rents to prevent a social catastrophe. Labour councils in Britain could do the same, and provide legal support to tenants fighting eviction. They should also implement a policy of cancelling rent during the crisis for council tenants.

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The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the class character of society in numerous ways. It is making clear to many that it is the working class that keeps society running, not the CEOs of major corporations.

The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.

The government has now ripped up its 'austerity' mantra and turned to policies that not long ago were denounced as socialist. But after the corona crisis, it will try to make the working class pay for it, by trying to claw back what has been given.

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In The Socialist 24 June 2020:


Socialist Party news and analysis

Lifting the lockdown: workers must not pay the price

Victory for Royal Glamorgan A&E!

Housing: act now to cancel Covid crisis rents and debt

Over 30% of children living in poverty

Fight back to stop Tories scrapping protections for children in care

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Reading workers' movement responds to knife attack

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Them & us


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Young people fighting back: Jobs and homes, not racism

Lessons from the Black Panthers: "We're not going to fight capitalism with black capitalism - we're going to fight capitalism with socialism"

Towards an anti-racist school curriculum

Black Lives Matter protests: week three


International socialist news and analysis

South Africa: Building jobs and living wage campaign


Wales

Tories sinking in Wales but no enthusiasm for Welsh Labour


Workplace news and analysis

Why you should come to NSSN conference

Fully fund schools - stand firm on safety

P&O: defend every job - nationalise the ferries

Workers need a 'new deal' - at least 12 an hour now!

Renationalisation of the probation service


Campaigns

It's time to join the Socialist Party

Selling the Socialist: we're back!

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Call for an increase in PIP due to Covid-19


Readers' opinion

A timely read about a pandemic that overwhelms society

The Socialist inbox


 

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Related links:

Housing:

triangleLondon housing crisis: vote TUSC to fight back

triangleThe Socialist Inbox

triangleTory hypocrisy over housing benefit cut

triangleCouncillors have a choice - don't vote for cuts

triangleWaltham Forest Socialist Party: Transport and housing in London

Covid:

triangleCovid inquiry? Workers must decide

triangle'Covid passports' discriminatory and questionable - fight for workplace safety

triangleLondon: #BuhariMustGo protests are back

triangleLow-paid workers shouldn't pay for Covid crisis

Debt:

triangle'Casino capitalism' - driving another potential financial Armageddon

triangleGlobal capitalism at most dangerous conjuncture since the 1930s

triangleLebanon - mass protests cut across sectarian division

Rents:

triangleScrap fees, refund rents and pay a living grant

triangleRefund student rent and fees

Tenants:

triangleStop evictions and drop the debts

Article dated 24 June 2020

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Thurrock council workers striking against pay cuts, photo by Dave Murray

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