A new social enterprise aims to help those struggling to raise a deposit

Steve Douglas

The budget announcements won’t help fix the housing crisis, but perhaps some recent new ideas just might.

Last month was the annual housing bash, which has relocated to Manchester, following a generation in the idyllic town of Harrogate. The relocation mattered. It was about moving away from a cosy, slightly rarefied and certainly scattered and haphazard conference that had become stale and a bit formulaic. It needed a buzz, some dynamism and some fresh ideas.

Manchester has to be the perfect place. If you’ve visited east Manchester, whether you are a blue or a red, you can’t help be blown away by the transformation that has happened around the Etihad Stadium, home to Manchester City. If you hear about the ambition of Manchester Place, the joint venture between the council and the Homes and Communities Agency, you cannot help but be inspired to believe that public and private sector partnerships really can make a significant difference to the housing and regeneration challenges that we continue to face.

And in the spirit of innovation, Manchester also found itself as the place that launched an initiative for London, by a North-east based social enterprise, Gentoo, supported by the GLA, which could transform the way home ownership is funded and delivered both in the capital and throughout England.

The premise is simple. The reason there is not more home ownership is not about ability to repay a mortgage, it’s about the ability to raise a substantial deposit. So if a purchaser didn’t have to find the deposit in the first instance, because it was already rolled up into the repayments, there could be more home ownership. The social enterprise has taken the idea and said ‘let’s do it’. They’ve also got the backing of the GLA to the tune of up to £40m. Prospective mayoral candidates, such as Tessa Jowell, are also talking positively about it, which suggests that the politicians get it too.

They’ve called it Genie, but there’s no magic to it. It’s about long-term, patient investment. Is there a catch? Interestingly, I don’t think there is. The principle is about housing associations being responsible businesses with a social purpose. The challenge is now to get local authorities and developers to be partners in delivery.

So, I came away from Manchester, with ideas for London as well as the North-east. Next week, I’m with the Northern Consortium looking at value for money and efficiency. The bar on innovation has been set high.

Steve Douglas is a Partner at Altair, who are now also acting as advisers to Gentoo Genie in London.