RSLs win low-cost housing bids

13 Sep 01
Local authorities fear they may be excluded from crucial decision-making after housing associations dominated a government programme to provide low-cost housing for more than 11,000 key public sector workers.

14 September 2001

Just ten out of 95 schemes approved under the £250m starter home initiative are not led by registered social landlords. These include bids from developers, employers and local authorities – some of which also include an RSL partner.

Although the initiative has been welcomed by councils, they were keen to stress this week that they should not be excluded from discussions over who should be offered assistance with housing.

'The focus has to be on local authorities determining where the priority lies in their area,' said John Austin-Locke, policy officer at the Local Government Association. 'There are areas where other sorts of workers are key to a local authority besides teachers and police officers. There has to be a degree of democratic accountability.'

Transport, Local Government and the Regions Secretary Stephen Byers announced on September 6 that about 4,000 nurses and health care workers, 2,800 teachers, 900 police officers and 300 other key workers would be provided with help to buy their first homes, mainly through shared ownership schemes.

Two-thirds of the £230m being spent under this scheme is being allocated to schemes in London. A further £20m scheme, providing interest-free equity loans to about 2,000 workers, will focus on areas outside the capital.

In addition, the Housing Corporation is being given extra money over the next few years to allocate towards housing for 1,200 key workers through its approved development programme. The corporation will announce further details of key worker schemes involving RSLs later this month.

Jim Coulter, chief executive of the National Housing Federation, welcomed the role RSLs will play in providing more affordable homes but warned that demand is likely to far outstrip supply.

The typical £30,000 grant would not be enough to buy an average-priced home in many areas. 'To be effective, the starter home initiative must be part of a wider package of reforms, including subsidised renting for young workers,' he said.

Mike Walker of the Employers Organisation described the initiative as a 'welcome step forward' in helping local authorities recruit and retain staff.


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