Housing Priority in Light of the Coronavirus – What are the Measures Taken Globally?

Analysis and writing: Jana Haidar
Research: Abir Saksouk, Jana Haidar, Bob Knoester, Hanadi Schmeit
Review: Nadine Bekdache, Zeina Jaber

The housing crisis in Lebanon is not novel, and measures to combat the Coronavirus pandemic did not create it. This crisis has always been evident in the incredibly escalating prices of real estate and apartments, and in the continuous rise in rent prices. Nevertheless, the spreading pandemic did position housing at the center of the debate about public health, the resilience of the healthcare sector, and community security. The “Stay home” slogan was at the forefront of the public mobilization phase that Lebanon adopted since last March to encounter the Coronavirus pandemic. Thus, there is a public discussion, for the first time about housing as a societal issue whose benefit exceeds the individual needs of its users. This is an approach which contradicts the prevailing trends at the state level and housing policies, which for decades, has restricted housing to market mechanisms and its investment value as individual and private property.

In Lebanon, as the economic and political collapse pace was accelerating, we reached a public mobilization phase, whereby being outside one’s house became illegal. However, staying home assumes firstly, the existence of a home, and secondly, its continuity. Nonetheless, the measures that the Lebanese state implemented to secure and protect housing for those affected by the mobilization resolution were not commensurate with the damage caused by restricted movement and shrinking incomes. Today, on the ground, cases of eviction threats are no secret to anyone anymore.

The law on suspension of loan payments is still in effect, in a way that mitigates the repercussions of public mobilization on home loan holders.1Although this procedure was temporary and insufficient, in light of Lebanon’s worst economic collapse Yet, passing the law of suspending deadlines, which suspended rent payment, was delayed until the end of July. It thus established a legal exception to a situation that imposed itself primarily on the real estate market and society. First, it must be noted that the aforementioned law does not highlight the suspension of home rent payment in the form of a separate article that clarifies the goal of protecting tenants from eviction. In her article published on the Housing Monitor, attorney Zeina Jaber explains how “the phrasing of the law was broad and vague” regarding suspending rent payments. However, “we can only interpret the text in the context of the compelling reasons and circumstances surrounding the issuing of this law, especially the economic inflation that we are experiencing as a result of the deterioration of the value of the Lira, and public mobilization as a result of the existing health situation.” In its literal sense, the law suspends all contractual deadlines. It deals with the housing issue in its legal contractual form, abstracted from its human and social dimensions. The discourse does not live up to acknowledging the priority of the right to housing and its protection amid the crisis.2Moreover, the law keeps the door open to many questions, the most important of which being: How will the issue of due rent be resolved after the deadline on July 30, 2020, in light of the difficulty of a paying it in one payment? What happened to old tenants whose contracts were explicitly excluded by the law? In addition, the law neglects protecting informal rents that benefit large numbers of residents of the most vulnerable groups, and who face arbitrary evictions on a daily basis.

In several countries around the world, local authorities adopted procedures that suspend rent payments and freeze evictions over a specified period. Nevertheless, they coupled that with plans to pay the dues after the suspension deadline expires, and this is what the Lebanese law of suspending deadlines is missing. In San Francisco, for instance, local authorities gave a 6-month deadline after the rental suspension process ended to pay arrears. In Barcelona, ​​the government has suspended rent payments during the health emergency period. After its end, tenants and landlords would negotiate a 50% deduction of the delayed rent value, or payment installments over a period of up to 3 years, in addition to providing small government loans to the poorer groups to help pay them.

Meanwhile, other cities banned evictions and some were strict in protecting tenants from arbitrary evictions in particular. For example, Maranhão in Brazil prevented the eviction of indigenous people in specific during the health crisis, while Abu Dhabi prevented all forms of eviction. In Morocco, a court decision was issued to forbid evictions during the time of the Coronavirus, and based on this decision, a draft law was proposed to hinder evictions. On the other hand, there were plans to shelter those who lack housing and to secure quarantine housing when needed, as was the case in the Greek capital Athens, the city of San Francisco, U.S., and Barcelona, ​​Spain, whose municipalities have allocated buildings to accommodate the homeless.

Other cities provided aid and incentives to help affected tenants pay their rent, or have exempted them from service fees to ease the burden of housing costs. For example, Egypt provided financial aid to the poorest families, while the Colombian city of Medellin exempted from late fees tenants who defaulted on rent and service fees, and the poorest were also exempted from all types of service fees. In Athens, tenants affected by the restrictions were given a rent reduction of 40%.

Global measures varied between those with tenants in mind and others that motivate landlords to contribute to providing affordable housing during the crisis. For example, Queensland, Australia has exempted landlords from certain property taxes in return for reducing their rental rates. As for home loans, several authorities froze late-installment penalties and paved the way for developing new schemes to modify the way due payments are paid. For instance, the central US government issued a resolution to exempt all holders of subsidized federal home loans from late-installment penalties and provided options for modifying the loan form.

In a parallel reading, we look at the nature of the authorities that approved and implemented such measures. In addition to central governments, local city authorities played their role in passing resolutions and imposing measures to secure housing. As for Lebanon, we saw some municipalities take measures to “protect their residents” from the spread of the virus, such as prohibiting renting to newcomers. These decisions are not based on legal grounds and overstep municipal powers. While cities of the world tend to secure a stock of affordable housing in anticipation of any emergency in tackling the pandemic threat to society, some Lebanese municipalities flout their responsibilities towards the community at large, by seizing the stock of empty housing within their scope. Thus, the measures taken by the Lebanese authority once again reflect the complete absence of the housing issue from public discourse and policies.

Today, public mobilization or economic collapse can be considered an opportunity to broaden our prevailing concept of housing, and to crystallize new concepts that respond to our immediate needs and lay the foundations for a new approach to housing as a right and as a societal need. Therefore, the legislative authority in Lebanon has yet to have its discourse on housing live up to the level of the danger we face and the housing disaster that may result from it, by establishing integrated measures that protect housing in all its forms. The Lebanese legislative authority has yet to acknowledge the actual needs of all residents, and to consolidate the absolute right to housing in all circumstances.

Tenant Support 
and Protection
Securing housing space for quarantineProtection for the most vulnerable community groupsContribution 
with landlor
Helping home 
loan holders
3” مستخلص من “COVID-19 Housing Protection Legislation and Housing Justice Action Map”  ب 3 تموز https://antievictionmappingproject.github.io/covid-19-map/./ 
A 40% reduction in the rents of financially affected tenantsOffer a building to accommodate 250 homeless
4” مستخلص من “COVID-19 Housing Protection Legislation and Housing Justice Action Map” ب 3 تموز https://antievictionmappingproject.github.io/covid-19-map/./
A resolution to suspend evictions of indigenous population
5” مستخلص من “COVID-19 Housing Protection Legislation and Housing Justice Action Map” ب 3 تموز https://antievictionmappingproject.github.io/covid-19-map/./
Suspension of property taxes for owners who introduce discounts
Cairo6دراسة لليحيى شوكت في marsadomran.info، ١٢نيسان ٢٠٢٠
“Yahia Shawkat، Tenants and Mortgage Support During the Corona Crisis: Draft Recommendations, 12 April 2020, marsadomran.info”
Rental aid for low-income bracketsReschedule home loans for low-income brackets
Morocco7المفكرة القانونية، لا إخلاء للمنازل في زمن الكورونا في المغرب: سياسة “خليك بالبيت” في قرار قضائي، 18 آذار ٢٠٢٠
Forbid implementing evictions
Exempt from late fees on rent during the health emergency period
Abu Dhabi8مقال ل Alice Haine في thenational.ae ، ٢٥ اذار ٢٠٢٠
“Alice Haine, Abu Dhabi and Dubai Governments Block Tenant Evictions during the Pandemic., 25 march 2020, thenational.ae.” https://www.thenational.ae/business/money/abu-dhabi-and-dubai-government…
Freeze all evictions
9تقرير ل “ديلويت” عن الإجراءات العالمية التحفيزية في مواجهة كورونا
Deloitte., Global Report of COVID-19 Supportive Measures – As of 2 April 2020 Global Investment and Innovation Incentives 2
Exempt poorest groups from service fees
New Orleans10مقابلة مع أندريا نوريس من مشروع نولا السكنيAid to 600 tenantsShelter a number of homeless people and postpone releasing homeless detainees
San Francisco11مقال ل Krista Nadeau في Newscentermaine.Com، ٢٣ اذار ٢٠٢٠
“Krista Nadeau, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae Offer Mortgage Relief Options, March 23, 2020, Newscentermaine.Com.” ….
Freeze evictions from federally subsidized housing until late JulyFreeze default penalties on subsidized home loans
Barcelona12” مستخلص من “COVID-19 Housing Protection Legislation and Housing Justice Action Map” ب 3 تموز https://antievictionmappingproject.github.io/covid-19-map/./Extend tenancy contracts for 6 additional months and providing loans to the poorest groupsTransforming empty tourist apartments and a number of buildings into sheltersFreeze home loan installments
Housing Land Management and Planning