TCPA Projects Assistant Koen Rutten reflects on the renewed importance of safe and supportive homes during the COVID-19 crisis.

With the UK firmly in the grips of the escalating COVID-19 outbreak, daily life has profoundly changed for all of us. Having been confined to my home for almost two weeks, the hardwood extendable kitchen table, the afternoon sunlight streaming through the bay window, and the small overgrown backyard with its greenery and skittish cat, have become the simple joys of my day.

These hardly offset the many inconveniences of a life limited to the indoors. Just last week, many were quick to condemn those who refused to stay indoors over the weekend. But while it is vital that those who can stay in their homes do so to contain the spread of the virus, it is also worth considering that many people don’t have safe and supportive homes to reside in for days on end in relative comfort. We know that members of our communities live in overcrowded dwellings while sharing with potentially harmful co-habitants, or in flats the size of a parking space. People are currently forced to spend day and night indoors without any sunlight or access to outdoor space. Their houses already present a hazard to their mental health and physical wellbeing in ordinary circumstances, let alone during this deeply stressful and unsettling time. Imagine yourself in a 12 square meter overheated studio: self-isolation becomes an unbearable and crude punishment. Now, how would you self-isolate without a home? Although we should absolutely abide by the stay-at-home order, demanding everyone to stay indoors obligates us to provide decent and affordable homes for all.

Poor quality housing compromises people’s ability to protect themselves and their loved ones during a public health crisis. And in the long run, draughty, humid, mould-ridden and cold buildings increase the chances of their inhabitants developing respiratory illness and having poor general health, the very people who are currently most vulnerable to die from the coronavirus.

This health crisis is a stark reminder of what the TCPA has been advocating for over the past century, most recently in our call for a Healthy Homes Act: good quality housing is a prerequisite for resilient communities. Homes that are spacious, light, resilient, secure, quiet and safe for all permit people to adapt and endure. The proliferation of improvised local support networks demonstrates the capacity of communities to look out for one another during a crisis. The care people provide to fellow residents and the solidarity they show with care workers and others providing vital services are truly restorative and inspirational. People should be able to reach out because of their home, reassured by the security and comfort a home can offer, and not despite of it.