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Stranded by politics: Homelessness and rough sleeping in the time of Covid-19

There is no forgiveness for renters who have struggled to keep up with payments during the pandemic, says JULIAN VIGO

“RENT arrears grants as eviction ban ends in Wales” and “Surge in homelessness under way with ending of the evictions ban for renters” — these are just a couple of headlines over the past weeks related to the reality unfolding now that the ban on evictions ended on May 31, just one month before the end of the furlough.

While Wales is rolling out a grant to support tenants with rent arrears as result of loss income due to the pandemic and lockdown, people on housing benefits are not eligible. 

This situation speaks to the misrepresentations rife within major media, where, over the past weeks, we have similarly been bombarded with news of an economic boom since March.

So why does the boom ostensibly taking place effectively disregard the many hundreds of thousands around the country struggling to pay rent? 

The National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) has called on the government to establish a £200 million fund to help tenants in rent arrears.

NRLA chief executive Ben Beadle spoke about the scale of tenants in arrears last month when addressing the parliamentary work & pensions committee on June 9, noting the latest research, which shows that 82 per cent of renters are in arrears who were not in arrears before the pandemic.

He also underscored that many of those in arrears “are ineligible for housing allowance or discretionary payments.”

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation released a survey the same day as the lifting of the eviction ban demonstrating that about 400,000 renting households, representing 5 per cent of renters in the UK, had already been served an eviction notice or had been told they may be evicted.

The survey also revealed that about 450,000 households were currently in rent arrears, of which 18 per cent had arrears of more than four months. 

Currently, landlords need give only four weeks’ notice of eviction to tenants more than four months in arrears of rent.

The survey also found that about one million renters (11 per cent of all renters), half of which are families with children, were concerned about being evicted in the coming three months. 

Yet, today we are told that Chancellor Rishi Sunak is “is poised to oversee an economic boom” at the same time that we are told of more and more exploitative practices by landlords in a country of 4.5 million renters (2017).

Oh, and there’s the house price boom widening the wealth gap. It is quite clear that the boom is for the non-renter class uniquely and those who have multiple homes. 

With about 6-7 per cent of tenants now in arrears, around twice the “normal” proportion, and where 10 per cent of private tenants are thought to be unemployed (roughly double the average rate), it is clear that the government is not thinking of what will happen to these lives.

During lockdown, renters were an afterthought in most countries. Tenants were, at best, told they could go into arrears and repay back rent and, in Britain, extensions for eviction notices were extended in addition to eviction bans.

While owners of multiple homes  are experimenting with meditation, tinctures and online therapy, many of us are too poor to have the time to even consider the hour it would take to research any of these soul-searching exercises.

From Britain to the US, there are renters who owe tens of thousands in back rent and there is no forgiveness for them. For the 37,500 who were rough sleeping in March, there is even less. 

There are many contradictions at the heart of virus mitigation, beginning and ending with who is cared for first.

And who is a footnote in the news of the forthcoming economic boom.

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