Build 100,000 ‘homes for Covid-19 heroes’, say UK council leaders

At least 100,000 homes should be built every year to rent to key workers who have helped fight coronavirus and to the families of those who have lost loved ones in the pandemic, according to a report by the Local Government Association.

The cross-party LGA says the modern day “homes for heroes” plan would also help regenerate the economy and create many thousands of jobs, while massively cutting the nation’s huge housing benefit bill.

Its report, to be published this week, says the 100,000 target should become part of the government’s wider ambition for building 300,000 homes a year. The new social housing could also be used to accommodate the many thousands of rough sleepers who were placed in hotels and other temporary places during the pandemic.

The LGA’s report, Building new social rent homes – an updated economic appraisal, is evidence of growing pressure on ministers to use house building as central part of economic regeneration measures, which the prime minister Boris Johnson has said will be announced by the chancellor Rishi Sunak within weeks.

The LGA research found that investment in a generation of social housing would create £320bn for the country over 50 years through increased economic activity. It also found that every £1 invested in a new social home generates £2.84 in the wider economy with every new social home generating a saving of £780 a year in housing benefit.

David Renard, LGA housing spokesman and Tory leader of Swindon borough council, said the scheme would be a modern day version of the “home for heroes” house building projects after the world wars. “As the nation comes through the biggest crisis we have faced since the second world war, we owe it to the health, care and other essential public service workers, who have risked their lives to keep the country running, to provide them with affordable, high-quality homes,” Renard said.

“The government should let councils take charge of the housing recovery, by giving them the powers and tools to build more of the affordable homes the country desperately needs.”

Groups of housing associations, developers and architects have been pushing similar ideas as the effect of the pandemic on construction and the wider economy has become clear.

The LGA wants ministers to expand council housing by bringing forward and increasing its £12bn extension to the Affordable Homes Programme, announced in the budget earlier this year, with an increased focus on homes for social rent. The vast majority of homes delivered under the scheme – which involves private and public- sector funding – are for ownership not rent.

The council leaders also say the “right to buy” system should be reformed with councils able to retain 100 per cent of receipts from the sale of homes.