What’s happening where to prevent a tide of homelessness?

The August 23 cliff edge is fast approaching – after that, renters will no longer be protected from eviction unless Westminster acts. We look at what other nations are doing, and welcome new members of the Ride Out Recession Alliance

Wales: Housing Minister Julie James has announced that landlords will have to give six months’ notice of eviction to tenants up until September 30, up from the three months introduced in March’s Coronavirus Act. James said the measures will mean “fewer people will face eviction into homelessness at a time when local authorities are less able to respond to these situations”.

Scotland: A six-month notice period was introduced at the start of the coronavirus lockdown and was in place until September – but Shelter Scotland warned of the consequences of not extending protections. “A tidal wave of evictions” was on the cards without them, according to director Alison Watson, following a 40 per cent increase in applications for crisis grants from the Scottish Welfare Fund. Now First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has announced that the eviction ban will be extended until March 2021.

Germany: Alongside its eviction ban, Germany moved quickly to allow rent payments to be deferred or spread out over two years. And they are coming from a place where rents are controlled. Germany has prohibited the eviction of tenants or termination of their rent contracts to anyone who, between April 1 and September 30 of this year, cannot pay their rent due to the crisis. This can be extended for another six months until March 31 next year.

Spain: In April, authorities brought in a set of measures to help out renters: an eviction ban to be upheld for up to six months after the threat of Covid-19 has passed, and the automatic renewal of leases due to expire during the pandemic. It stopped landlords from hiking up the rent for six months, too. Interest-free loans were introduced for vulnerable tenants to keep up with housing costs, to be paid back over a six-year period, though those in poverty are more likely to be grappling with debt already. And in Barcelona, where renters pay the most per square metre in the country, mayor Ada Colau told landlords of nearly 200 empty flats to rent out vacant homes within 30 days – or risk them being repossessed for half their market value and converted to affordable housing.

Canada: In Ontario, the eviction ban has already been lifted. Despite pressure from tenants’ groups – at the time of writing they’re still campaigning for authorities to extend the moratorium on evictions – the Landlord and Tenant Board is now making its way through a backlog of eviction applications for people who didn’t pay their rent. Homeowners submitted 6,000 during lockdown alone, meaning thousands are newly at risk.

USA: The life-saving eviction moratorium has ended across much of the USA, too. Around 23 million people are now at risk of homelessness, with roughly 30 states having lifted eviction bans since May. Up to 26.5 per cent of adults across the US said they couldn’t pay their rent last month or didn’t know if they would be able to in the future, and in places like Milwaukee the number of evictions filed in June soared by 21 per cent following the end of the ban.

The Big Issue knows the UK must do more to protect tenants by keeping them in safe homes and keeping them in work. Our Ride Out Recession Alliance brings together the most innovative experts from across the sector to share ideas and forge a path forward.

And this week, two more organisations have got on board. First is Centrepoint, one of the country’s leading homelessness charities.

Seyi Obakin, its chief executive, said:  “The economic fallout of the pandemic will be felt most by young people and those least able to shoulder the added pressure of a loss of earnings or unstable accommodation. Over the last few months we’ve seen a huge increase in the number of young people becoming unemployed and, since lockdown began, the number of calls to our helpline has increased by half. 

 “It’s clear that this trend is going to continue: our latest research found that three quarters of local councils across England expect to see an increase in homelessness in the coming months and less than a quarter think they are able to accommodate those people currently in hotels. Now, with the reduced furlough scheme and the imminent end of the eviction ban, it’s perhaps more important than ever to do all we can for those facing homelessness to weather this perfect storm. 

 “That is why we’re joining the Ride Out Recession Alliance to ensure that some of the country’s most vulnerable people are not forgotten and that they are given the opportunities they need to rebuild their lives in the wake of this pandemic.”

Secondly, the Social Housing Action Campaign (SHAC). It grew out of trade union Unite in June 2018 after meetings revealed a strong appetite for a network where residents and tenants could learn from each other and build solidarity.

Suzanne Muna, SHAC communications officer, said: “The Social Housing Action Campaign is honoured to join RORA. The alliance allows us to work with other campaign groups and activists to mobilise housing association tenants and residents against the widely anticipated wave of evictions at the end of August. 

“Housing associations (HAs) are uniquely well placed to waive rents and service charges for those in financial difficulty. They have no excuse for initiating evictions on the basis of inability to pay.

“If resources become tight, recognising the position of co-ops and smaller associations, we call on government to underwrite HA debt, as they did for the banks after the 2008 financial crash. This nationalised the debt whilst allowing the banks to continue operating as distinct entities, retaining their own governance structures. The same model could be used to support the housing association sector if needed. Allied to this must be a great increase in the democratic involvement of tenants, residents and workers in the governance of these largely unaccountable organisations.”