Houseboats may be an option for providing homes for local people in the South Hams.
The region has one of the largest gaps between house prices and annual wages, but district council leader Julian Brazil told its executive committee this week that “nothing was off the table” for housing options which residents could afford.
Councillors were updated on the progress of new projects with affordable housing, including eight homes at St Anns Chapel near Bigbury for rent.
The council is in the process of buying seven properties at Sherford, initially to provide accommodation for people under the Homes for Ukraine scheme and to support Afghan families currently in hotels, but the homes will subsequently be available for other housing needs in the district.
The government’s Local Authority Housing Fund (LAHF) has contributed towards the cost and the council has also put in money from its reserves.
It’s also buying an eighth property because of an underspend and £475,000 is to be used from reserves to match fund a second phase of LAHF for three more homes.
But Cllr Jacqi Hodgson (Green, Dartington and Staverton) said the council should be thinking of other options than just regular housing to tackle its shortage of homes.
“There needs to be a more flexible option to get people into housing even if it’s just stepping stones.
“In Wales, for example, they build passive house timber frame units [an energy efficient standard] that can be delivered really cheaply. Houseboats and other low-cost housing options should be considered. We have land assets here and there and I think if we could at least get that on our radar it would be good.
“Houseboats have provided housing for people for decades and been really successful for building small communities at very low cost.”
Cllr Brazil (Lib Dem, Stokenham) is pleased houseboats are included in the new Totnes Neighbourhood Plan: “Every avenue will be explored and nothing will be off the table,” he said.
He paid tribute to the previous Conservative administration who had worked “really hard” to bring the St Anns Chapel development to fruition. There is expected to be high demand for the properties which will carry a rental cost of £583 per calendar month for the two-bed homes and £693 for the three-beds.
Three additional homes will be sold on the open market to repay short term borrowing and will have a primary residency clause, meaning they can’t be used as second homes.
Cllr Nicky Hopwood (Con, Woolwell) said they needed to keep a close eye on how new homes for rent were allocated. “If we are building homes in the South Hams let us be really, really careful that through Devon Home Choice (the council’s housing provider) they go to our local residents, that is so important.”
Officers said under the lettings preference would be given to local residents first.
South Hams declared a housing crisis in 2021 and has one of the highest number of second homes in the south west, around 4,000, or one in every 12 homes.
The council intends to double council tax on second homes from next year and is asking Devon County Council, which allocates the money, to put it back into affordable housing schemes for the district.
Land registry figures show that the average house price is £416,000 and a PR survey for heating products supplier Plumb Nation earlier this year revealed the South Hams is the sixth least affordable place to buy a house in the UK, with a salary-price ratio of just under 15 times annual salary.