Waltham Forest Council to buy 400 homes in and out of London to ease housing crisis

Waltham Forest Council has re-approved plans to procure hundreds of new homes in a bid to tackle the “high level of homelessness”.

The authority will work alongside housing provider Mears to purchase up to 400 homes, which it will make available for residents living in temporary accommodation.

The council aims for half of those to be in London, while the rest will be ‘as near as possible’ in places like Kent, Essex, or Surrey.

It will prioritise two-bedroom and three-bedroom properties – leasehold and freehold – with an overall target mix of 60-40. Mears will purchase them at a rate of twelve a month, over two or three years.

The Waltham Forest cabinet had initially approved the scheme back in June 2021, but “adverse market conditions” meant no viable plan was agreed by the March 2023 deadline, according to a council report.

As it now faces a “significant shortage” of homes and rising homelessness in the borough, the second ‘joint venture’ with Mears was greenlit once again at a cabinet meeting on Tuesday (June 4).

Council leader Grace Williams told the cabinet: “We really need long-term, good quality homes we can access very quickly.

“We’re seeing an increase in need and have never seen such challenging market conditions.

“We know the impact this has on residents.”

The houses would be for residents owed a ‘main housing duty,’ defined as those still facing homelessness after six months in council-supplied temporary accommodation.

Council figures show 891 people were living in temporary accommodation in May 2023, an increase of 7 per cent from the previous June.

The situation has been compounded by a lack of supply in the private rental sector. The council says it has been forced to use hotels to provide temporary accommodation, which has increased weekly costs.

The net costs of providing such accommodation have also increased from an average of £85 per property, per week to £131 – a jump of 35 per cents since 2021.

Housing shortages have meant residents are staying in temporary accommodation for “much longer,” which the council says is “creating uncertainty and challenges for residents and additional financial pressure for the council”.

Waltham Forest expects to save £56 per week, per property, which it estimates will add up to around £1.165million once all 400 homes have been purchased and put to use.

It will be the council’s second scheme with Mears, following on from More Homes Waltham Forest in 2018, which saw 300 homes purchased.

A council spokesperson said: “We are working hard to increase the supply of local housing stock to better help those who come to us at risk of becoming homeless.

“Reducing the amount of money we spend on temporary accommodation and increasing our stock of high-quality family homes will make a difference in our efforts to tackle the housing crisis that is affecting the whole country.”

To mitigate risk to the council, Mears – which manages 17,000 homes for local and central government across the UK – will bear the financial brunt of the scheme.

It will be funded by a bond issue and Mears will handle housing management and repairs, while Waltham Forest will be responsible for paying rent for unoccupied homes. Mears would be responsible for rent not being collected.

Though hundreds of people face homelessness in Waltham Forest, the numbers are low compared to the situation in neighbouring boroughs.

The council says it has “done well” to keep the numbers down. There are 5,928 such households in Newham and 3,006 in Redbridge, its figures show.

There are more than 35,000 UK families with toddlers and babies currently living in temporary accommodation, according to data from Inside Housing who report that councils in England are expected to spend more than £2bn on such housing this year.

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Sebastian Mann

Local democracy reporter

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