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Waltham Forest Council is buying hundreds of homes for the homeless, but will purchase no more than 80 in the borough itself.
The council first set up a joint venture with housing provider Mears three years ago, which raised £88 million to buy 400 homes for Waltham’s most vulnerable.
So far, more than 220 of these properties have tenants, while “a further 80 properties are in the pipeline”. The council expects to finish buying the remaining 100 homes this year.
At a cabinet meeting on Wednesday June 23, council leaders agreed to partner with Mears to buy another 400 homes in London, Essex, Hertfordshire and Kent, which it estimates will cost £125 million.
A report prepared by officers notes purchasing homes across the south-east “will ensure (they have) no detrimental impact to one area” and that no more than a fifth will be in Waltham Forest itself.
Tenants housed in the new homes, for example in Kent, could be more than 40 miles away from the borough itself.
In November last year, a homeless mum who had spent a week sleeping on her friend’s floor after being abruptly evicted said the council had offered her a home in Telford, 150 miles away.
The council currently has around 1,400 households in expensive temporary accommodation such as hostels or hotels, while it tries to house them.
Last financial year, each placement lost it an average £65 a week, although officers expect this gap to “narrow” after rent was raised earlier this year.
Across 1,400 households, this means the council faced a financial hit of more than £4.7 million annually to house its homeless, a population expected to grow post-COVID.
Officers say the first joint venture saved the council £400,000 last financial year on accommodation costs and hope the second contract, agreed this week, could save as much as £900,000 this year.
Waltham Forest Council will choose who the homes are let to and will have to pay rent on any homes left vacant for too long, while Mears will manage and maintain the homes.
At the end of the contract, in 40 years time, the council will also buy the homes from the joint venture for a price “equivalent to any outstanding debt”, which it expects will be nothing.
Council officers are also currently looking to enter into another joint venture contract to buy even more homes, possibly with a partner other than Mears.