Putting homes at the heart of recovery
Our homes have never been more important to us than they have been during the coronavirus crisis. For some people, home has been a sanctuary. For others, it has been a prison. As we launch Homes at the Heart, a national campaign and coalition calling for a once-in-a-generation investment in social housing, CIH chief executive, Gavin Smart shares his thoughts on why it’s so important to put homes at the heart of recovery.
Everyone knew there was a shortage of social homes before we were hit by COVID-19, but in the last four months, the need has become even more obvious. Thousands of rough sleepers, taken off the streets, lack access to permanent housing. Many key workers, whether in hospitals, care homes or supermarkets, struggle to pay their housing costs on inadequate incomes. A large proportion of private renters, who might have hoped to save the deposit needed to buy a home, have instead been struggling to pay their landlords to ensure they don’t lose their tenancies when the pandemic ends.
For many of us, home has been a sanctuary from a dangerous and unpredictable virus – becoming an office, a classroom, a gym or even a place of worship. But lockdown has been worse – perhaps even intolerable – for people who are sharing a space, living in overcrowded conditions or whose homes are in disrepair, insecure or unaffordable. Many have found themselves isolated from the support that would help them to live normally. There’s greater consensus that the widening gap between housing haves and have nots can no longer be disregarded and ought to be tackled once the immediate crisis is over.
We also know that the government plans to boost the economy after the massive hit it has taken in past few months. On the one hand, the Treasury is looking nervously at the growth in national debt, which now exceeds the UK’s GDP. On the other, it needs an economic boost which must be financed in large part by the public purse. Any stimulus must be quick, big and effective to tackle the expected increase in unemployment when furloughing comes to an end. And it must benefit the whole country. Furthermore, the Chancellor has suggested he may be receptive to the chorus of demands for a ‘green’ recovery.
Our case to the government is that investing in affordable housing is not only one of the best ways of boosting the economy, but it addresses a major need which the COVID-19 crisis has made more prominent. If the government simply acts to boost homeownership, important though this is, not only will it fail to help the increased numbers who can’t afford to buy, but it also risks misfiring because the market needs time to recover. In contrast, housing associations and councils not only have shovel-ready projects to meet a range of new needs, but can invest in their existing stock and continue the task of bringing it up to the standards required to meet the government’s carbon reduction goals.
That’s why we have written to the Chancellor asking him to put social homes at the heart of the recovery - as a driver of economic and social prosperity, and an anchor for strong communities. We’ve called this the ‘Homes at the Heart’.
Our broad appeal means we’ve got wide support. CIH has signed the letter jointly with the National Housing Federation, National Federation of ALMOs, Association of Retained Council Housing and Crisis, along with a wealth of supporters from NatWest to Carers UK.
What we need now is for housing as a whole to get behind our campaign – publish your own press releases, lobby your MPs and perhaps write to the Chancellor in support of ‘Homes at the Heart’.
This is a major opportunity to address the housing needs of which are all acutely aware – and we must not let it slip past.
Find out more about Homes at the Heart here.