East Devon District Council is looking at setting up its own local housing company to play a more significant role in the local housing market and increase housing supply in the area to meet the demand for good quality housing.
The company, which would be wholly owned by the council, could play a key role in delivering new homes to the district’s growing population. It would be financed by the council and any profits would come back to the council.
Other key priorities for the new company would be to improve the quality of rented accommodation across the district, provide housing for sale and shared ownership, and set standards for good housing design and management in the local housing market.
A report setting out the outline business case for the proposal was approved by the council’s Cabinet last week. (March 8).
The report outlines the purpose, legal position and operational considerations of running such a company. Among the benefits would be the opportunity to buy and let existing homes, including acquiring properties from developers, with the possibility of developing council-owned land or land bought through the open market. The company would be run as a business by a board of directors.
The report adds: “The Company can start small and build over time. Being entirely under the control of the council, we can operate at a pace that we are comfortable with, managing risk and exploring opportunity for development that are viable and provide a return on our investment.”
East Devon has a wealth of experience in housing and is one of the reducing number of councils in the country which still manages its own council housing stock of around 4,200 properties. This experience will assist in the operation of the company, although it is recognised that it will need to operate on commercial terms free from many of the local government restrictions.
Cllr Jill Elson, EDDC’s Portfolio holder for homes and communities, said: “This presents a wonderful opportunity for the council to play a more active part in the local housing market. We have researched the proposal carefully and fully, looked at the risks and rewards, and decided that the local housing company model is a suitable model for the council to deliver its housing ambitions. We are seeing high levels of demand for housing in the area and see this as a way of increasing supply consistent with the government’s growth agenda.”
The council will now prepare an initial business plan, identify the first projects and report back to the council.