Councils could have a major role to play in rescuing the ailing British housing market, according to Barking and Dagenham Council.
The authority is calling on the Government to give councils the freedom to buy private homes on a massive scale and put them back into public ownership. The proposal goes much further than a Government announcement that councils could be allowed to buy private homes on the brink of repossession.
“For us, councils need to be stepping in a long time before its residents can’t pay their mortgage, and looking instead at ways to reduce the housing boom and bust in their area,” says Councillor Liam Smith, executive member for housing.
“In boroughs like ours the council has historically had an enduring majority share in the housing market, in our case by owning two out of every three houses.
“But now that stability has gone, replaced instead by people on low incomes overstretching themselves for mortgages they can’t afford, and absentee landlords snapping up buy-to-let properties and renting them out to all comers.
“Neither of these models is sustainable in the long term, and neither makes for a settled, happy community, particularly when the housing market bites back.”
Under plans put forward by the council, any properties that come onto the private housing market could be purchased – although in practice the authority will set their sights on particular homes.
“The properties we want to get back into public ownership are the ones which are making a negative contribution to our community. So yes, we would like to give some hope to homeowners facing repossession, but first we need to tackle the run-down empty houses, the over-occupied buy-to-let flats, and the high-turnover rented properties,” says Cllr Smith.
According to the Council, when the properties came onto the market, they would be bought up, refurbished to a high standard and let (with proper responsible management) to local people on the authority’s housing waiting list.
“Certainly, I want to see a time when locally-accountable public organisations go back to owning homes on a large scale. But in the short term, councils can still do a lot,” adds Cllr Smith.
“By buying up the bottom end of the private market – the part most affected by the current economic climate and the part with the least stake in the community – we can bring stability to the lives of thousands of our residents and the neighbourhoods they live in.”