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UN expert urges states to help secure homes in virus crisis

AFP , Wednesday 18 Mar 2020
Coronavirus
Medical staff push a patient on a gurney to a waiting medical helicopter at the Emile Muller hospital in Mulhouse, eastern France, to be evacuated on another hospital on March 17, 2020, amid the outbreak of the new Coronavirus, COVID-19. (AFP)
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A United Nations expert called Wednesday for governments to help prevent people from falling into homelessness during the coronavirus crisis by enabling them to defer mortgage payments and by imposing moratoriums on evictions.

In addition, interest rate cuts to combat the economic effects of the pandemic should not be taken as a green light for "predatory" investors to buy up homes, said Leilani Farha, the UN special rapporteur on adequate housing.

The independent expert -- who does not speak for the UN but reports her findings to the world body -- called on governments to prevent homelessness brought on by job losses and economic hardship.

Farha praised countries already observing a moratorium on evictions due to payment arrears and allowing deferrals of mortgage payments.

The expert called on states to consider using vacant units and short-term rentals to get through the crisis, and ensure that any curfews or instructions to stay at home do not penalise the homeless.

The coronavirus outbreak, which first emerged in China late last year, has quickly marched across the globe, infecting nearly 200,000 people and killing almost 7,900.

The United States and Britain are leading a multi-billion-dollar global fightback against economic havoc wreaked by the pandemic, with the US Federal Reserve on Sunday slashing borrowing costs to zero.

"There is a risk that such measures will enable global financial actors to use the pandemic and the misfortunes of many to dominate housing markets without regard for human rights standards, as they did in the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis," Farha said.

"States must prevent the predatory practices of institutional investors in the area of residential real estate."

She said some 1.8 billion people worldwide were living in grossly inadequate homes, which are often overcrowded and without access to clean water, making them more vulnerable to the new coronavirus.

Secure housing and adequate sanitation "will help protect the entire world's population by flattening the curve of COVID-19," she said.

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