Church of England should deliver more affordable homes, report finds

Thousands of acres of church land should be used for affordable homes as part of a national housing strategy, a Church report says.
York Minster, the seat of the archbishop of York.
York Minster, the seat of the archbishop of York. Credit: Pixabay

The Church of England should deliver more affordable homes on its own land to help tackle the country’s housing crisis, a report by an in-house commission has found.

The report Coming Home, published by the Archbishops’ Commission on Housing, Church and Community after two years of research, calls for a national effort involving government, local authorities, landowners, and property developers as well as the Church to address England’s shortage of affordable housing.

Around eight million people in England live in overcrowded, unaffordable and unsuitable housing with this figure likely to have increased due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the report finds.

Making several national and church policy recommendations, the report calls for a “bold, coherent, long-term” housing strategy to increase the supply of truly affordable homes and improve the quality and sustainability of England’s existing housing stock.

Graham Tomlin, the bishop of Kensington and vice-chair of the Commission, said: “The Grenfell tower fire highlighted the urgency of the housing crisis in our nation, and was always in the back of our minds as a Commission as we have thought and prayed over the housing issue in the last two years.

“The Commission offers a framework of what good housing looks like, and suggests that we need a long-term plan for housing that present and future governments can commit to. As the church with a presence in every community, we can take a lead by providing affordable housing where we can, and supporting people in our parishes in housing need.”

The report identifies several ways the Church could better use its 6,000 acres of strategic landholdings suitable for housing and calls for a new measure to allow dioceses and parishes to use church land for social and environmental benefit.

To lead efforts at a national level, the archbishop of Canterbury has already submitted a motion to the Church’s General Synod to recognise “addressing housing need and strengthening communities” as an integral part of the Church’s mission.

The newly-appointed bishop for housing Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani will also lead a team supporting local dioceses and parishes to help meet local housing need.

However, the Commission has warned that while the Church of England’s contribution is important, it will not tackle the housing crisis alone, saying that a “collective responsibility to act is more urgent than ever”.

The Commission has therefore urged the government to develop a 20-year cross-party strategy for increasing the supply of truly affordable homes, including a specific target for the number of new affordable homes and how these will be funded.

Other recommendations made by the Commission include new protections for private sector tenants, reversing cuts to Local Housing Allowance, and a full review of the welfare system to ensure that low-income households receive sufficient housing support.

The Commission has also called on the government to tackle the cladding crisis with greater urgency by commiting to remove all unsafe cladding from residential blocks by June 2022 and to give leaseholders total protection from remediation costs.

The report has been welcomed by numerous housing bodies including the National Housing Federation (NHF) and the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH).

Kate Henderson, chief executive of the NHF, said: “The country and much of the population are in financial crisis, and millions are living in unaffordable, cramped homes.

“What’s truly exciting is the Commission’s determination for the Church to do its part in ending the housing crisis once and for all by looking at how it can use its land for the development of truly affordable homes.

“We hope this recommendation encourages other landowners to consider doing something similar, and inspires the government to recognise social housing as fundamental to a society where no one is left behind, and communities thrive.”

Gavin Smart, chief executive of the CIH, added: “The recommendations in Coming Home give us a clear and useful roadmap to help us get to where we need to.

“We must build many more genuinely affordable homes than we are currently building, but we also need to make sure that our existing housing stock is in a safe and good condition to be certain these homes are fit for the future.

“A long-term housing strategy backed by realistic help with housing costs for people on low incomes is integral to ensuring that every individual in every community has a place to call home.”

The recommendations of the report will now be implemented by Dr Francis-Dehqani who was named the Church of England’s first ever bishop for housing earlier this year.

The bishop and her executive team have been tasked with working with internal and external bodies to make sure the Church plays its part in addressing the housing crisis.

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