Date issued: 24 August 2020
The commitment to a £22-million pound project that would provide an additional 100 council homes for homeless Colchester residents by the end of March 2022 is set be reaffirmed by councillors next week.
Next week’s meeting of Colchester Borough Council’s Cabinet (Wednesday 2 September) is set to discuss a different way the council can fund its ambitious plans to purchase 100 former council homes on the open market over the next 18 months.
The project will see the council seek to purchase properties that will be used to provide quality homes at council rents and managed by Colchester Borough Homes (CBH), to help ease the pressure on the borough’s housing waiting list. Currently there are just under 3,000 households on the council’s housing register.
The proposals were originally agreed by Cabinet in January – but as a result of the acute financial pressures the council is facing as a result of Coronavirus, the council has had to look again at how the project would be funded.
Originally, it was planned to be funded through the council’s General Fund. However, if agreed, it will now be funded through the Housing Revenue Account (HRA), using Right to Buy receipts and supported through borrowing.
Under the scheme, the council will look to buy former council homes which have previously been sold under the Right to Buy scheme, or other properties depending on the market at the time.
The types of homes purchased will reflect the greatest needs of those on the housing register. The scheme will focus on areas where CBC already have homes and on properties that could be adapted to ensure they are suitable for wheelchair users and those with restricted mobility, as well as being made as energy efficient as possible to contribute to the council’s climate emergency commitments.
The council has a proven track record of delivering these kinds of projects. In 2018/2019 it successfully bought 16 homes to use as temporary accommodation to house homeless households whilst waiting for permanent homes to become available. Last year, the council purchased 35 homes as part of its commitment to spend £6million a year for the next five years buying 30 homes each year by March 2024 – which this new scheme will be in addition to.
This new scheme will bring the total investment in projects buying new homes to support those on the council’s Housing Register to more than £57m over six years.
The acquisitions project also supplements the work being undertaken through the council’s housing-building company, Amphora Homes, to build new council homes across the borough.
Councillor Adam Fox, Portfolio Holder for Housing, said: “Everyone knows the impact of Covid and the Government’s failure to live up to its promise to provide councils with the money needed to get through it and come out the other side, has completely changed the landscape.
“However, what has not changed is the need for more council and affordable homes for our residents and our commitment to seek to deliver good quality housing
“We have had to look long and hard at all of our projects but I believe we have come up with a way of not only delivering this fantastic project, but also easing the burden on our General Fund council budget to deliver key services for the people and businesses of the borough.
“Should the new way forward be agreed at Cabinet, our overall total investment to increase our housing stock, depleted over many years through the Right to Buy, will be around £57million. It also gives us a way of speeding up our ability to help those who are homeless or on our Housing Register.”
The General Fund and HRA are budgets that include all income received and expenditure incurred in the day-to-day running of the council. The HRA is a ringfenced account that deals with all income and expenditure relating to council housing, whilst the General Fund pays for all other services.