Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 19th May 2021

The UK’s housing crisis didn’t start with the pandemic. Its roots can be found in the 1984 Housing Act, Margaret Thatcher’s attempt to end the role of local government in providing affordable housing, and it will take decades of effort by committed councils to make good this historic mistake.

However, COVID-19 has certainly made the problem worse. During the first lockdown there were two main housing-related pressures. The first was the need to get rough sleepers into socially distanced accommodation to limit the spread of the virus, before transitioning them into permanent housing. While not everyone took up this effort or found maintaining a tenancy sustainable, the effort was largely successful, although incurring a far higher cost than the Government’s funding covered.

The second pressure was how to keep people housed when the lockdown would inevitably result in a loss of household income. The Government’s solution was a mortgage holiday and a ban on evictions, that way people would be less likely to take risks around employment and they would have somewhere to self-isolate until the danger had passed.

From the start, this was a much better deal for home owners, who were able to push payments back at no cost to themselves, while renters would continue to incur rent over the whole period. These days, rents tend to be much higher than mortgage payments, which coupled with renters being more likely to occupy lower paid and more insecure work means that there will be a tidal wave of evictions when the Government’s ban ceases at the end of this month.

Crawley’s economy has been hit harder than any other in the country, but migration from London makes it unlikely that rents will fall in-line with rising unemployment, so we are going to see the impact of this tidal wave more than most.

We can’t control the private rented sector, although considerable improvement is needed, but we can set an example for them. That is why I am happy to announce that under Labour, the council will extend the ban on evictions a further year beyond the Government’s current deadline.

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