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A leg-up onto the housing ladder...

By Exeter Express and Echo  |  Posted: December 27, 2012

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Finding a way onto the property ladder has, for most of us, never been easy.

But right now, the dream of home ownership can seem further away than ever for many.

Mortgages are harder to come by, with higher deposits required, while rental costs continue to rise making saving all the more difficult.

Exeter's property market remains relatively robust, which is welcome news for those already on the ladder but not such good news for those who are trying to put a foot on the first rung.

And changes to housing benefit will add to the obstacles faced by many.

So news that Exeter City Council is developing a strategy to address the housing needs of those who find themselves caught in the void between access to social housing and being able to buy their own property is welcome.

That looks likely to lead to a housing co-operative scheme, where those who earn too much to qualify for social housing but not enough to be able to trawl through the Echo's property pages and find something they could realistically be able to buy, would be able to have a stake in their home.

That generally means residents part-renting and part-buying, although there are a number of different mechanisms which the council will examine before deciding which is best suited to Exeter.

Such shared ownership schemes are nothing new, of course, and they can offer opportunities which would otherwise be beyond the financial capacity of those who are handed the keys.

Council-owned land would be used to build the homes, which would be reserved for those identified as being in need.

It's an interesting initiative, and one which deserves support in principle.

Helping people into home ownership is an admirable aim.

As ever, the devil is in the detail – the initial purchase price and rent levels, then the mechanism around 'staircasing' – where occupiers can increase their stake in the property – and eventual resale when it's time to move on are all critical to the value of any such scheme.

Critics may say the ultimate beneficiaries of poorly-structured local authority-backed shared ownership projects are the developers, who are effectively subsidised and are able to sell their wares to a captive market at inflated prices.

That, of course, does not need to be the case and we look forward to learning more about Exeter City Council's proposals in the future.

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