Thinking Anglicans

Archbishops’ Commission on Housing, Church and Community

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York have today released Coming Home: Tackling the housing crisis together, a report from the Archbishops’ Commission on Housing, Church and Community. There is a lengthy press release, which is copied below. The Church Commissioners have also issued a press release welcoming the report.

The report and an executive summary can be downloaded from here.

Press reports include

Church Times This is how to solve the housing crisis, says Archbishops’ Commission
The Guardian Church of England land should be used to help tackle housing crisis, says report

There will be a presentation by the Archbishops’ Commission on the key actions and recommendations from the report at the informal meeting of General Synod on 27 February. Synod members have been sent this briefing paper, which includes  a copy of the Grove booklet Why the Church Should Care About Housing written by two members of the Commission.

Archbishops’ Press release

Church must play key role in national effort to solve housing crisis, says Archbishops’ Commission
20/02/2021

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York have released a landmark new report, ‘Coming Home’, which sets out a bold new vision for housing and community

The Church of England should lead by example, including delivering more truly affordable homes on its own land, to help solve the housing crisis, says a landmark report published today by the Archbishops’ Commission on Housing, Church and Community.

A collective effort at all levels of society including Government, local authorities, landowners and property developers as well as the Church is needed to help tackle an acute shortage of truly affordable homes, the report Coming Home, says.

Published after two years of research, the 10-strong Commission warns that the housing crisis has left an estimated eight million people living in overcrowded, unaffordable and sub-standard accommodation with increasing numbers of families unable to put down roots in their communities.

In a series of recommendations for both national and church policy, the Commission says that action should be taken by the Church of England to deliver more truly affordable homes. To achieve this, it has examined what needs to change if Church land is not simply to be sold to the highest bidder.

It has identified new ways in which the 6000 acres of strategic landholdings of the Church Commissioners could be used and recommends a new Church Measure which would ensure that dioceses and parishes can use church land for social and environmental benefit.

The Commission has also been working closely with dioceses to encourage and equip them to work in partnership with other organisations on projects to provide affordable homes and housing support and advice services.

During the work of the Commission, 40 church-run or supported projects were documented some of which are on course to expand their work to other dioceses and parishes across the country.

These range from almshouses in Berkshire to modular homes in Cambridge on church land and a church hall converted to accommodate homeless young people in Lancashire. Churches are also running housing advice services in south London and are leading successful community campaigns to secure affordable housing in London.

The report details how the newly-appointed Bishop for Housing, the Right Rev Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani will lead a team supporting local dioceses and parishes to help meet local housing need.

To provide direction for these initiatives, the Archbishop of Canterbury will ask the General Synod, the church’s national assembly, to confirm that meeting housing need is an integral part of the mission of the Church of England.

The ambition of Commission members is that this work, continuing a long tradition of Christian involvement in housing provision dating back to the alms houses of the Middle Ages, will be as mainstream to the Church’s mission as its response to crisis homelessness, such as winter shelters, and food banks.

The new report says good housing should be sustainable, safe, stable, sociable and satisfying. But far too many people are living in conditions that fall far short of this vision, with the pandemic further highlighting inequalities.

The report notes that the situation has been getting progressively worse for at least 20 years, despite many reports calling for substantially more truly affordable homes.

The Commission concludes that successive Governments’ focus on simply building more homes is not going to solve the problem of affordability.

While three million new homes have been built over the last 20 years, by far the largest consequence has been nearly 2 ½ million more households renting privately.

At the same time, in housing policy, “affordable” has become a word for a discounted price, says the Commission, instead of the common understanding of the word in which an affordable price is related to income.

The Commission urges the Government to set out a 20 year housing strategy, including a specific target for the number of homes which are truly affordable, 10 and 20 years out, and who should bear the financial burden for achieving this.

Such a 20-year strategy, created with cross-party support, is urgently needed to:

  • ensure there are more truly affordable homes, and;
  • improve the quality and environmental sustainability of existing housing stock.

In that context, the Commission has made recommendations about both public subsidy and how the planning system might be used progressively to reduce land prices.

To make an immediate impact on the crisis, the Commission recommends further reversal of cuts to social security support for housing and – after years of piecemeal changes – calls for a review to ensure adequate housing support for low-income households. Successive welfare reforms have left many low-income households forced to choose between paying the rent and paying for other essentials such as food and heating, the Commission notes.

The Commission recommends new protections for private sector tenants, including longer-term security of tenure and a duty of care on all landlords.

The cladding crisis must also be addressed with much greater urgency, with a commitment to remove unsafe cladding on residential blocks by June 2022 and protection for leaseholders from the costs of remediation, the report recommends.

Given the depth of the housing crisis, and the injustice it represents, the Commission also encourages others to join the church in a collective effort: doing what they can now, selflessly, to deliver better housing, and not simply to wait for new Government policy.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said: “The Commission has laid out an exciting and compelling vision for housing in our nation. I welcome the challenge to the Church, which is uniquely placed thanks to our resources and our committed and continuing presence in every community, to work to build not just more houses but truly affordable houses and stronger communities. My prayer is that the work of this Commission will help us achieve God’s desire for all of His children to find ‘home’ here on Earth as a taste of the eternal home we are offered in His Kingdom.”

The Bishop of Kensington, Graham Tomlin, 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.”

Charlie Arbuthnot, Chair of the Commission, said: “It has been a huge privilege to chair this Commission with a team of Commissioners who have enormous collective experience of housing issues. The greatest privilege of all, however, for all of us, would be if this report really makes a difference. We have seen, first hand, the heart wrenching conditions in which many are housed and this has to change. We truly hope that this report will be part of that process.”

Revd Lynne Cullens, Commission member and Chair of the National Estate Churches Network, said: “The statistics regarding the housing crisis are grim, four million households in England live in a home that the government defines as ‘non-decent’, for instance.  But there is hope – the past two years have revealed that there is a quiet revolution happening within many parishes.

“Right across the country, churches are responding to local housing need by building, innovating, repurposing and advocating for those who are vulnerably housed.

“And we want to see more of this; because together – as the Church, as individuals and as sector partners – we can tackle the housing crisis.  Together we can drive a spoke into the wheel of housing injustice.  Together local churches can play a vital role in ensuring everyone has a home that is sustainable, safe, stable, sociable and satisfying.”

Read the full Coming Home report

Read the Church Commissioners’ response to the Coming Home report

Notes:

The Commission

The Commission was launched in April 2019 with the remit of re-imagining housing policy, with a focus on building better communities and homes, not just houses. It was set up following Archbishop Justin’s book Reimagining Britain: Foundations for Hope published March 2018 in which he argued that the principal aim of housing should be the creation of community and that good housing is essential to equality and justice.

The Commission has examined a number of areas: theology, national policy, National Church Institutions, Church of England dioceses, parishes, and individuals. Members have taken part in study visits to talk to people directly affected by housing crisis and have heard from regional housing groups representing local churches and their communities, about the housing crisis in their areas.

Researchers for the Commissioners interviewed representatives from more than 40 church-linked housing projects up and down the country. They also received dozens of submissions through their website and engaged with more than 100 stakeholders.

Members of the Commission:

  • Charlie Arbuthnot, Chair, former funding adviser to housing associations
  • The Rt Revd Dr Graham Tomlin, Bishop of Kensington and President of St Mellitus College, Vice Chair
  • Dr Stephen Backhouse, Director of Tent Theology
  • Revd Chris Beales, Anglican minister and social entrepreneur
  • Revd Lynne Cullens, Rector of Stockport and Brinnington and Chair of the National Estate Churches Network
  • Cym D’Souza, Chief Executive of Arawak Walton Housing Association and Chair of BMENational
  • Sir Robert Devereux, Former Permanent Secretary, DWP
  • David Orr, Former Chief Executive of the National Housing Federation
  • Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol
  • Christine Whitehead, Professor Emeritus in Housing Economics, London School of Economics

Land holdings of the Church of England

These fall into two main categories:

  • Dioceses: Much diocesan land is ‘glebe land’, currently required by law to be held to fund clergy stipends.  Much of this is in rural areas and unsuitable for housing. Parishes may also hold land in their own right.
  • The Church Commissioners: (CCs). The CCs have £8.7 billion of assets, with around 15% in land and forestry, and 3% (6,000 acres) of the portfolio held as “strategic land” potentially suitable for housing.
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Froghole
Froghole
6 months ago

It is difficult to think of a time when there has not been a ‘housing crisis’ in the UK, at least since the late eighteenth century. This is for the simple reason that land has usually been at a relative premium thanks to high population densities and, more recently, unprecedently high population growth. If the crisis has moderated from time to time it has either been on account of increasing the bargaining power of tenants, credit controls, a slackening in the formation of households (usually, though not always, a function of stagnating population growth) or sprawl. Each of these so-called… Read more »

Froghole
Froghole
6 months ago

#2 The Church cannot, or will not say anything about the fundamental reasons for the licensed theft of successors in title and tenants by owner occupiers, because to do so would cause grievous offence to its core constituency. I should add that successors in title and tenants are, overwhelmingly, defined contribution pensioners, whilst owner occupiers are – to a disproportionate extent – defined benefit pensioners (whether in whole or in part). Governments have held down interest rates in order to avoid tanking residential property (memories of 1988-93, which sunk the Major government, are still raw), whilst high inward migration has… Read more »

God 'elp us all
God 'elp us all
6 months ago

Two years to state the [somewhat] obvious, in 126 pages? The church is here for the poor and homeless- who would have thought it? ‘Around 8 million people in England live in overcrowded, unaffordable, or unsuitable homes.That is not right.’ 163 mentions of ‘affordable’; 119 of ‘diocese’; 64 of God; 26 Jesus,3 ‘warm’s; 5 walkable; 48 bishops (incl 29 Archbishops), parish 49; priest, rector and vicar 3,3 and 5… A very worthy suggestion that ‘A commitment should be given to remove all unsafe cladding on residential blocks by June 2022, the fifth anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire. 5 YEARS!… Read more »

Dominic Barrington
Reply to  God 'elp us all
6 months ago

So – at this point in time – what would you have them do? You are very articulate in criticizing the current state of affairs. Do you have a preferred course of action moving forward that is substantially different to that being proposed?

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
Reply to  Dominic Barrington
6 months ago

As Dr Johnson said

You may scold a carpenter who has made you a bad table, though you cannot make a table. It is not your trade to make tables.

God 'elp us all
God 'elp us all
Reply to  Richard Pinch
6 months ago

Who would not applaud the Church of England for seeking the improvement of housing conditions? No-one could doubt the well-meaning or commitment of the then Archbishops in commissioning the work nor the work of the Commission in producing some 50-60,000 fine words. So what? Who will read the report; who will do anything about it? Who is the intended reader? I look forward to seeing the Secretary of State for Community and Local Government’s response, or that of Persimmon, in bricks and mortar. In 1919, in the wake of the war to end all wars, came the Tudor Walters report-… Read more »

Evan McWilliams
Evan McWilliams
6 months ago

The most troubling suggestion in this report is that dioceses be empowered to dispose of glebe land intended for the maintenance of ministry in the parishes. How can a commission possibly think it good and right to encourage authorities to sell off property intended to be held in trust by them in perpetuity for a particular purpose? It feels like yet another round of selling off the ‘family silver’; before long there won’t be anything left to sell.

Rascal T Pott
Rascal T Pott
Reply to  Evan McWilliams
6 months ago

It makes perfect sense. On the recognition that they have no intention of maintaining ministry in parishes.

Anthony Archer
Anthony Archer
Reply to  Evan McWilliams
6 months ago

Dioceses are already ’empowered’ to dispose of glebe land. The diocese of St Albans is a junior partner in a 30yr development project of land north of Houghton Regis, Beds. It has a 15% or so interest. It is good stewardship to do this. No point in hoarding the ‘family silver’ if you miss out on a here and now opportunity. Indeed it would be a breach of trusteeship. The church needs to get real about this stuff. Obviously it matters what use the land is put to. All profits from the management (and sale) of glebe land are used… Read more »

Froghole
Froghole
Reply to  Evan McWilliams
6 months ago

Many thanks. I must respectfully disagree with the contention that land must be sold for development. If agricultural land must be sold at all (and I think that there should be a presumption against this, as returns to agriculture *may* rise over time as a consequence of changes to environmental policy), it must *not* be for ‘furniture burning’ purposes. The Church has dissipated an enormous stock of land over the last century. Sometimes this made sense, as agriculture slumped between c. 1875 and 1914 and 1919-39; the Church was not alone in diversifying away from the two hitherto respectable investments… Read more »

Evan McWilliams
Evan McWilliams
Reply to  Froghole
6 months ago

Thank you so much for these observations, Froghole. I have often felt that truly long-term planning (that is, in terms of centuries rather than decades) is a foreign concept to those in leadership who sometimes give the impression that they don’t believe the Church of England is long for this world. Why plan if this is nearly the end? Such moves do not engender confidence. The sale rather than leasing of rectories and parsonages is the most visible example of this.

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
Reply to  Evan McWilliams
6 months ago

In the previous millennium, I was at a meeting of the investment committee of a Cambridge college which had asked a financial advisor to propose a long-term investment strategy. It soon became apparent that the advisor’s view of “long-term” meant “more than seven years”. The presentation was cut short by the chair saying icily “This college has been in business for 650 years. We expect to remain in business for another 650 years. We cannot regard your strategy as ‘long-term’.”

Kate
Kate
6 months ago

I am surprised that the report hasn’t been greeted with more enthusiasm. This is something which should be welcomed.

Michael
Michael
6 months ago

It would be interesting to know the location of the 6,000 acres and also a definition of ‘affordable housing’. Affordable in inner city estates is not the same as Home Counties. Is there a projected timescale or budget. The planning system in England is far from easy to navigate. Thanks to Froghole for an excellent digest of how the problems of affordability have arisen. I would add to that – buy to let and historically low interest rates. I despair of those in their 20s and 30s who live in rented accommodation, cannot get a mortgage because house prices are… Read more »

Froghole
Froghole
Reply to  Michael
6 months ago

Many thanks. The cost to the taxpayer of housing benefits has risen as follows (though note the recent moderation): https://www.statista.com/statistics/283949/housing-benefit-united-kingdom-uk-government-spending/#:~:text=Government%20expenditure%20on%20housing%20benefit%20in%20the%20UK%202002%2D2020&text=In%202019%2F20%20the%20government,in%20the%20provided%20time%20period. This is a lavish form of welfare for the affluent. During the 1950s it was generally thought possible to pay off a mortgage within three or four years. Of course, mortgage credit was much harder to come by, especially for women (and almost impossible for single women). I should add that Schedule A, which was the work of the reactionary Henry Addington had been inspired by Adam Smith – no less – was the mainstay of the income tax prior… Read more »

Jonathan Jamal
Jonathan Jamal
6 months ago

I think part if not all the reasons why we find ourselves in this present Housing Crisis, and as Anglican Priest who was in Secular employment as a Social Worker told me many years ago back in 1995, goes back to the time when Baroness Thatcher as Prime Minister brought in the scheme “Right to Buy” where tenants could buy their own Council Houses, which had consequences not only in England but up here in Scotland too, which removed much rolling stocks of Social Housing available to people seeking Housing and put people on long waiting lists for Housing spanning… Read more »

Froghole
Froghole
Reply to  Jonathan Jamal
6 months ago

Mr Jamal – your suggestion that the Church partners with housing associations, or forms one of its own, is one of the best suggestions I have read during my time following TA. Of course, much HA stock is ex-public sector, which was divested pursuant to the Housing Acts 1985 and 1988. However, the Cameron government saw HAs as belonging to the shadow public sector, which led to the disastrous Housing & Planning Act 2016, much of which has since been quietly ditched. It is to be hoped that further changes to the treatment of HA stock will make HAs less… Read more »

Stephen Griffiths
Stephen Griffiths
6 months ago

I believe this is good news, as long as the original intentions of the building projects can be retained. My concern is that when ‘church land’ is sold off for housing the parish church takes the brunt of local reaction to ‘spoiling the village’. It does not matter that the land belongs to the diocese or Church Commissioners it is the parish church that is criticised and local relationships can sour over this issue.

Froghole
Froghole
Reply to  Stephen Griffiths
6 months ago

This is so very true. For example, about eight years ago I attended services on a peninsular in the east of England and one of the parishes contained a very ancient capitular estate – belonging to a very famous cathedral – one which had formerly funded two prebends of that cathedral, the dean & chapter also being patron of the living (the bishop is patron of the other church, and there is a further closed church used for diocesan purposes). The D&C were attempting to develop the land, and the plans specified 30, then 20 units. The response of the… Read more »

Revd Mark Bennet
Revd Mark Bennet
6 months ago

The webinar today from the team which put this together was very good indeed and a lot of the “pinch point” and political reality questions are clearly in view. It will take some determination, resilience and money to work things through. One issue featured was the scale of the problem, which is immense and potentially daunting. Creating the will in our nation to address it at the necessary scale will be a challenging task.

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