Fourteen local authorities including Leeds, Manchester, Plymouth and Sheffield have expressed interest in a project that could progress thousands of affordable homes.
The pilots will see councils provide surplus public sector land to housing companies. The private sector will then invest equivalent amounts to build the homes in return for taking the land cost out of the equation.
National Housing Federation chief executive David Orr welcomed the scheme but urged other councils not to delay setting up companies. "It is vital that surplus land that could be used for social housing is released as soon as possible," he said.