Liverpool City Council has set up a private housing company in order to - in the words of Mayor Joe Anderson - ‘radically reshape’ the city’s housing market. In the midst of a national housing crisis and with council budgets stretched to breaking point, many authorities are experimenting with new ways of delivering much needed homes. Foundations, as Liverpool’s new company is called, is an ambitious example of what can be done.
‘There isn’t one housing crisis in the country,’ Foundations chair Frank Hont told Local Government News. ‘Each area has their own particular housing crisis.’ Only 47% of households in Liverpool are owner occupied, compared to a UK average of about 65%. Almost 30% of households are privately rented, a figure that increases to 50% in the more deprived areas. More — and more affordable — housing is needed, in other words.
In total, the council estimates the city will need 27,000 new homes by 2030 to meet demand. It is hoped that Foundations can help address the shortfall. Wholly-owned by the city council, the £500m private company - paid for by the Public Works Loan Board via the council - aims to work through public-private partnerships to deliver 10,000 new homes over the next decade.
These will include bespoke properties for the homeless, foster carers, large families, the elderly and people with disabilities. When it was first announced in 2017, Mayor Anderson explained the rationale behind the name. It is called Foundations, he said, because ‘that is precisely what it will provide for generations of people.’
One way this will happen is through a new Rent to Buy scheme. This will allow people to pay reduced rent on Foundations properties, which would enable them to save enough money for a deposit to buy the home they are renting. This money can then flow back into more housing. ‘Our intention,’ says Mr Hont, ‘is that the money from both house sales and rents will then be reinvested back into the Foundations programme to help create even more homes and support more people in our city as they take the first step on to the housing ladder.’
Describing it as an ‘ambitious programme’, Mr Hont emphasises the homes will not all be new build. ‘Foundations has the ambition to refurbish and regenerate areas by using existing stock - some of which would have fallen into disrepair, some of which will be vacant,’ he says. The housing supply in Liverpool is dominated by small terraced houses which, apart from skewing the city’s council tax revenue, were largely built before 1919 and therefore require refurbishing. There are also homes which were abandoned when the Government stopped funding the Housing Market Renewal Initiative in 2011. Foundations is predicted to create 2,000 new jobs in the city.
On top of this, it plans to provide more opportunities for training, as the company’s chief executive Mark Kitts, a housing and regeneration professional, explains. ‘Foundations will be committed to delivering training and skills opportunities for young people in the city. We’ll be working with contractors who will be encouraged to use local supply chains and locally-sourced labour. In addition, we’ll work with providers such as higher education colleges to deliver on-the-job training, including apprenticeships for young people who want to forge a career in the construction industry.’
‘This will be a win-win for everyone,’ Mayor Anderson says, ‘as the council will be able to increase council tax, influence the quality of the housing and support people who want to buy by turning rent into a deposit. This company has more than just a social value, its business model also stacks up as a serious investment in the future of the city.’
To date, Foundations has identified, and is assessing for feasibility, more than 40 potential sites across Liverpool. These are located across the city centre, neighbourhoods and on the waterfront. It is also taking an early look at some of the more challenged neighbourhoods in the city, such as Kensington, Wavertree and Anfield. And with the possibility of Everton Football Club moving to Bramley-Moore Dock, there are also discussions in progress about the future of Goodison Park.
Mr Hont is confidant in Foundations’ ability to deliver on its ambitions. Liverpool City Council, where he was the cabinet member for housing until May, had ‘quite a successful programme of partnership with builders and partnerships with landlords to make a difference in the city,’ he told LGN. However, Foundations ‘enables us to go up a step, to increase the scale of what we can do.’
There are no councillors on the company’s board. This was a deliberate decision. ‘Not having councillors on the board enables Foundations to take a strategic view of the city,’ he explains. They will not, in other words, be pressured to concentrate on areas they have a political interest in. His past experience as a councillor means, however, that he has extensive knowledge of Liverpool’s housing challenges. ‘I would not claim to be a housing professional,’ he says. ‘But what I can bring, and what other members of the board can bring, is a strategic vision, a view of what the city needs.’
The launch of Foundations is a response to a national housing crisis. So, what can Westminster do to help? Mr Hont says that more funding would be helpful but isn’t the most crucial point. What he wants is more consistency from the centre. ‘The biggest problems in housing across the country is that we have had more housing ministers than you can shake a stick at and housing policy nationally seems to change at the whim of those ministers,’ he explains.
Flexibility to allow local areas to address their specific housing issues is also essential, says Mr Hont. ‘We know our cities. We know Liverpool, Sheffield knows Sheffield, and Manchester knows Manchester. We know what’s needed. It’s about Governments helping us to deliver it and giving us the space and consistency to do that.’
This feature first appeared in Local Government News magazine. Sign up to your own free copy here.