Blog: Joe Anderson

The mayor of Liverpool says the city is turning back the clock and starting to build council houses once more

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Liverpool led the way in 1869 when it built the first local authority homes in Europe. The idea initially was for the private sector to build them on behalf of the council but, in echoes of the situation we still face today, developers were only interested in building in profitable areas. So Liverpool Corporation, as it was known then, built them itself. Make no mistake about it, these early homes were basic – just bedrooms and a living room – but it was a private space for each family and it was their own, which was revolutionary at the time. As a young boy, I grew up in one of these tenements, so they were a formative part of my early years.

One hundred and fifty years on, housing is still one of the most pressing issues in Liverpool, and one I identified as a priority in 2010 when I took charge of the council. It frustrated me that there were thousands of people on the housing waiting list, yet lots of empty properties that just needed a bit of TLC to bring them back into use.

Joe Anderson: return to council house building “not a moment too soon”

Since then we’ve made lots of progress – bringing thousands of derelict homes back into use. I am particularly proud of our work with partners to rescue housing projects in places like Anfield, Norris Green and Toxteth, as well as our pioneering Homes for a Pound scheme, which gives people the chance to buy a property for less than the cost of a newspaper on condition they refurbish it. These schemes have breathed new life into areas that were previously haemorrhaging residents.

More recently, we set up an arms-length housing company, Foundations, which is driving forward a number of schemes to help people on to the housing ladder through rent-to-buy and private developments, and also targeted at niches that are not of interest to developers, such as for the elderly, large families, foster carers and those with a disability. This is an integral part of our Inclusive Growth Plan, in which we are also looking at setting up a regional bank with other local authorities to help the poorest access financial services such as mortgages. But it is also clear to me that home ownership is not for everyone and the council has a role to play in the social rented market to make sure no one is left behind, particularly as we are a growing city with half a million residents.

St Martin’s Cottages, England’s first council housing

The issue that has held back our ambitions of building our own council housing again – despite the government lifting the borrowing cap – has been historic housing debt. For Liverpool this was £735 million, which the government wiped out when we transferred the last of our council homes to housing associations around a decade ago. We have now had confirmation from the government that they will not require us to repay that money if we start building houses again, which gives us the confidence to kick on.

So, for the first time in more than 30 years, we have just launched the first handful of council-owned properties for rent in Picton – with the promise of many more to come. For me, this return to our council building roots has come not a moment too soon, and represents the very best traditions of the public sector: intervening to make life better for citizens.

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