'Kick start' loans for decaying homes in Stoke-on-Trent
INTEREST-FREE loans will be offered to struggling private homeowners in the city whose properties need major improvements.
Stoke-on-Trent City Council is to revive the 'Kick Start' loan scheme in a bid to tackle the 45,000 privately-owned properties in the city which fail to meet acceptable standards.
The region-wide programme was axed by the coalition Government last year, leaving 200 vulnerable and low-income applicants on the waiting list and ending annual loan awards for North Staffordshire of more than £2 million.
The scheme, which launched in 2008, saw 600 city homeowners supported to carry out improvement work at their homes with £6.6 million invested in loans averaging £11,000.
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Under new plans, the city council will take on legal responsibility for the £6.6 million loans portfolio.
As properties are sold on and loans are repaid, the cash will be reinvested in new loans for low-income homeowners instead of being swallowed up by the Government. Officers will also use £700,000 from loans repaid after the dissolution of the West Midlands Kick Start Partnership to relaunch the programme.
It is hoped hundreds will eventually benefit from crucial home improvements they would not otherwise be able to afford. It is likely to be extended to cover empty properties where owners cannot afford to make them habitable.
Councillor Janine Bridges, cabinet member for housing, neighbourhoods and community safety, said the scheme will prevent some desperate property owners turning to loan sharks.
She said: "This is an innovative scheme which will help private sector residents improve their properties and, in turn, it will improve their quality of life and the city's housing stock.
"The loans will be for vulnerable and low income private homeowners, and as the money is paid back it will be spent on further improvements.
"They are equity loans which means they are tied to the house, not the homeowner, so they can be paid back when the home is sold."
Mark and Jeannine Owen received a Kick Start loan to make vital improvements to their home in The Wood, Meir.
Mrs Owen suffers with sciatica, asthma, pleurisy, and agoraphobia and needed a downstairs extension, adding a toilet and shower.
The cash helped the couple update the property, which also needed new doors, drains and guttering, without resorting to a bank loan.
Mr Owen said: "It was all work that really needed doing.
"It has made a big difference, our quality of life is much better now – especially for Jeannine.
Val Bourne, the council's assistant director of housing, said: "While the 600 loans delivered in the city through Kick Start made a valuable contribution towards improving the decency of private housing, the city is left with 45,000 homes which do not meet an acceptable decency standard.
"There is a significant remaining level of need for assistance."