European Parliament and Commission
Before the COVID-19 crisis, 11.3% of Europeans suffered from an excessive house cost burden. Within the European Union and throughout the World, this cost is especially high for low-income tenants, in which more than 40% of their disposable income is spent on their monthly rent. Furthermore, 50 million households were in a situation of energy poverty in 2018, leaving them exposed to climate change.
The COVID-19 crisis forced governments to impose restrictive quarantine measures that virtually paralysed the economy. While some workers were allowed to continue their professional activity from home, many sectors saw their activity be shut down completely or be highly reduced. Job loss is more likely to hit poor people with basic levels of education, which are those already suffering from rent burden. In the meantime, record temperatures registered all over the world for the year 2020 reminds us that the climate crisis didn’t stop during the lockdown. Indeed, the pandemic is just one of future global crises that will be spurred on by climate breakdown.
The post-coronavirus economic crisis threatens to reinforce the budgetary pressure of rent (overburden) and eventually trigger mass household expulsions, catapulting the numbers of poverty and homelessness to a historic high. Moreover, the pressure on public debt could hinder the effort to adapt Europe for the still ongoing climate crisis.
Mitigating the COVID-19 Crisis:
Ensuring sustainable housing for all Europeans:
1) Creating a European fund for the acquisition of public housing, with a special focus on vacant dwellings (average vacancy rate in Europe ~18%). This fund shoul _ be accessible to states, regions and municipalities in order to fulfill the Human right to adequate housing for all EU residents. It should be large enough to defacto ensure that housing is guaranteed by public authorities in the last resort.
2) Creating a European fund for the sustainable renovation of all households in the E.U. This will leave the EU residents more resilient to future crises. This fund should be large enough to ensure this large scale public work is funded by public authorities and not households.
Economic resilience for future crises:
1) Implementing a European Universal Basic Dividend that will improve household and small business resilience to future crises and create a permanent tool to tackle rent overburden.
2) Enshrining the right to a decent and sustainable housing and an EU wide set of tenant rights in the European treaties.
These measures would allow to reach three main goals:
1) To hinder social and economic disenfranchisement arising from the post-coronavirus economic backlash;
2) To create a ‘federal’ bond between Europeans and the EU
3) To lay the foundations for a pan-European social security system.
As special rapporteur Philip Alston mentioned, the ‘mainstream pre-pandemic triumphalist narrative that extreme poverty is nearing eradication’ is unjustified by facts -- and the COVID-19 crisis will almost certainly cause existing levels of poverty and homelessness to climb. Rather than exacerbating further inequalities, COVID-19 recovery programs should bridge the gap between the more fortunate and those that are already indebted and unprepared for future crises. The burden of the pandemic was largely put on the shoulders of individuals that were asked to quarantine, and work from home or put their lives at risk as essential workers. Government imposed measures that have caused hardship in the lives of working Europeans should be followed up with holistic and restorative policies.
Only a full-scale response, without hesitations and nationalist frugalism, can save millions from falling into deeper poverty and exacerbate the effects of COVID-19 and sky-rocketing sovereign debt!