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How Councils can promote home ownership

Kate Kate Davies is the Chief Executive of the Notting Hill Housing Trust, which has taken a progressive and positive approach to home ownership. Here she offers advice on how Councils could do the same.

Most people do not need much encouragement to become home owners. Having
choice over your home, building an asset and having your own secure base is important to most of us, even those who are renting in the private or social sector. The main reason people rent from the Council, or remain in the private rented sector for a long period is poverty.

So if Councils wish to help people into home ownership the most important thing they could do would be to help them into work and out of poverty. Few Councils do this actively, and yet they are well placed to
do so. What about a Council that focuses hard on attracting jobs, creating masses of work experience for the unemployed, making sure schools prepare students for work, providing information on opportunities, linking different departments to focus on this objective?

Once working, savings schemes seem a good idea. Councils could educate children and adults more - there are shocking levels of financial illiteracy in this country. The Council could set up a savings scheme
and perhaps link this up with a payments scheme for all the things people pay their council for - from Council tax to library fines.

For those with an income and a strong desire for ownership Councils could create smaller steps. They could use their own landholdings to create homes in which they are joint owners with the resident. They
could encourage housing associations and developers to produce cheaper homes for sale: for example smaller homes, or ones that the purchaser finishes for themselves. What opportunities are there to help people buy together - a shared house, or an extended family? Councils could sell some of their empty homes ("voids") as shared ownership or on easy terms. They could allow people to move from rent to mortgage, exercising their right to buy. They could encourage housing associations in the
borough to allow sitting tenants the right to buy a share or to buy outright.

Notting Hill has held a number of Open Evenings for Tenants who want to buy their own home. Hundreds of tenants attended. We follow up by offering an appointment with our advisor who goes through their finances
and the options that might exist. We have managed to help quite a few tenants move into ownership from social housing in this way. Good advice goes along way, especially for local people who have perhaps not had a family background of home ownership.

Finally, for those who try and fail, we should have some safety nets. Downward staircasing is a product that landlords should be able to provide to those in extreme need, and having such a product allows
people to feel more confident about taking the risk of home ownership.


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