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VIRUS OUTBREAK

From eviction bans to cash support: Cities act against virus housing crisis

London

AS CITIES go into lockdown to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, officials from the United States to France are scrambling to protect home-owners and renters from homelessness.

Staying home is the "front line defence" against the virus, the United Nations special rapporteur on housing Leilani Farha said, as she called for urgent measures to ensure everyone has a roof over their head.

Here are seven ways cities are trying to stop a novel coronavirus housing crisis:

Eviction bans

With tenants struggling to pay rent during the virus outbreak, more than a dozen US cities, including New York, Seattle and San Francisco, have temporarily banned evictions.

Eviction bans are now so common in the US that the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a non-profit advocacy group, has set up an online tracker.

Cash benefits

Canada has announced C$27 billion (S$27 billion) in direct support to families and businesses struggling because of the novel coronavirus.

This includes payments of up to C$900 every two weeks to workers who must stay home to self-isolate or care for children, but do not qualify for unemployment benefits, as well as a one-off payment for low-income households.

Rent freezes

Many people have called for rent freezes, including activists who interrupted a council meeting in Portland, in the western US state of Oregon. The mayor said their proposal was illegal.

In mid-western Ohio, more than 100,000 people have signed a petition calling for a freeze on rent, along with mortgage payments and bills.

"Be flexible where you can," the Residential Landlords Association advised its members in England and Wales. "Work with the tenant to repay any arrears when things return to normal."

Mortgage holidays

In London, where house prices are among the highest in the world, mortgage providers have agreed to a three-month delay in repayments for borrowers affected by the virus.

This allows homeowners to take a break from paying all or part of a monthly mortgage repayment, but will increase the total amount owed, with bigger repayments in future.

Shorter work hours

Germany has reintroduced an initiative allowing employees to work shorter hours but to keep their jobs to soften the impact of Covid-19 on the labour market and allow workers to pay essential bills.

Under the initiative, first used during the 2008 financial crisis, companies can apply for state aid to cover the costs of keeping people on. More than two million people are expected to use the scheme.

Utility shut-off bans

Officials in the eastern US state of Connecticut have banned utility disconnections, regardless of arrears.

"People need electricity, heat and water to stay home safely right now," said Attorney-General William Tong in a statement.

Homeless isolation shelters

France's housing ministry said on Wednesday it would open two isolation centres in Paris to house and protect more than 3,600 homeless people living in the capital who have tested positive for the virus, but are not required to go to hospital. REUTERS