Bristol Green Councillor Carla Denyer has called on the government and Labour to support renters and tackle homelessness as the coronavirus crisis deepens the problems of an existing broken housing system.
Whilst commending the efforts of Bristol council staff to tackle homelessness during the pandemic, Denyer has urged the local Labour Bristol West MP and Shadow Housing Secretary Thangham Debbonaire to reconsider Labour’s “landlord-centric” policies to ensure renters are protected off the back of the coronavirus crisis.
Speaking on Thursday (25 June), Denyer said: “At a briefing last week, council staff working on housing and homelessness reported that since lockdown they have moved over 400 people off the streets and out of shared dormitory-style shelters into hotels and other accommodation that allows for social distancing.
“They are now working on a plan to secure permanent, appropriate and affordable accommodation to try to make sure that nobody goes back to the streets once the hotels reopen.
“This is a mammoth task. I have been so impressed by the commitment of our officers to tackling homelessness in Bristol so far, and fully support their ongoing efforts to house Bristol’s homeless. It will be literally life-saving for some of Bristol’s most vulnerable residents.”
Denyer insisted more must be done nationwide to safeguard those most vulnerable struggling and assist them in rebuilding their lives after the coronavirus crisis.
“Neither Labour nor the Conservatives are doing enough nationally,” she added. “Those who have been unable to pay rent because of lost earnings during lockdown are still expected to pay it back under both parties’ policies, which will lead to a spiral of debt for many of the poorest in our country.
“The Green Party and many housing campaigners and unions are calling for extending the temporary ban on evictions, permanently scrapping Section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions, adjusting benefits to cover rent more fully, and for rent arrears accrued as a result of the crisis to be forgiven. The government has responded to some of these demands, but not all.”
Denyer called out Labour’s plans in particular – Labour holds all four Bristol parliamentary seats – and urged the party to make radical changes going forward in Bristol to ensure the problems of the existing housing system aren’t further exacerbated after the pandemic.
Denyer continued: “Under Labour’s plan, renters must pay off all coronavirus-related arrears over the next two years. Someone whose rent is £800 a month, for example, will have to find an extra £100 a month when household budgets are already likely to be stretched.
“This will be unaffordable for many, especially during a recession, and will likely lead to increased homelessness. Many Bristolians have expressed surprise that Labour has proposed a policy that seems to prioritise the profits of landlords over keeping people in their homes.”
Denyer, a long-standing member of the Bristol-based ACORN union, and Sian Berry, co-leader of the Green Party, are working with ACORN and other tenants’ rights organisations nationally to call on Labour to reconsider this policy.
‘For too long our housing system has prioritised private profits of landlords over the needs of the rest of us, leading to unaffordable rents, increased insecurity, and the decimation of public housing,’ ACORN stressed in a recent open letter to the government.
The union’s recent #HousingIsHealth campaign states that ‘government inaction is causing a chaotic rent debt and evictions crisis’. ACORN is calling on the government to take immediate action as six out of every 10 renters have suffered losses to their income, with many left out of government support schemes. The Food Foundation has even found that 1.5 million Britons have gone a whole day without food during the coronavirus crisis, underlining the extreme pressure exerted on incomes by the pandemic.
ACORN’s full list of demands to the government can be read on its website.