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UK >

Commissioners should back housing schemes, says Welby

by Gavin Drake

Posted: 27 Sep 2013 @ 12:09

THE Archbishop of Canterbury has said that the Church Commissioners should invest some of their funds in housing associations and other social enterprises that work to tackle financial inequality.

He made his comments during a question-and-answer session at the National Housing Federation's annual conference in Birmingham last Friday, where he had delivered a speech calling for a greater partnership between housing associations and the Church of England.

Tess Pendle, the head of My Home Finance, a non-profit organisation that provides low-cost credit and banking facilities to financially excluded people, as an alternative to payday lenders, asked whether "such a partnership might involve financial investment from the Church".

In his speech, Archbishop Welby praised housing associations for providing "security and stability" for their tenants. But he warned of "the possibility of growing and large-scale" rent arrears caused by a combination of "reductions in bene-fit to take account of what is seen as excess house space, theso-called 'bedroom tax'; higher costs for energy; and, for many,the fact that, with continuous payment authorities, short-term lenders can take money direct from an account within hours of it coming in."

He was not attacking the government or politicians, he said.In many cases the problem was not with policies, but with the way in which they were implemented.

He spoke against the "demonising" of people who relied on food banks, and said that such facilities were "sadly necessary, as much for those in work as out of it. . .

"If you combine higher costs, lower incomes in real terms, debt, issue of policy delivery, greater risks to cash flow for housing associations and communities that falsely appear to be locked into decline, the challenge to human flourishing and to resilient communities is obvious."

His bleak assessment of the challenges that face deprived communities and those seeking to support them was balanced by an upbeat view about the solutions.

"Responsibility falls on a lot of organisations, and our collective response in the third sector," he said, "but, especially, I want to suggest churches and housing associations will be infinitely greater put together than our individual efforts added up. . . The building blocks are already there, and in many places have been happening for many years."

The motive for regeneration "must not be desperation or fear", he said, "but love". The Church's social action was driven by the example of Jesus, who "made a point of going wherever there were people in need. He healed people from his own community and outside it, he healed the grateful and the ungrateful, and he healed the downright hostile. He did whatever he could wherever there was need, and he didn't set conditions. That's the example that we're trying to follow."

He acknowledged the "anxiety in the social-housing sector about whether it is safe for housing associations to work with religious groups", but said that "not only is it legal but it is very safe - in fact, it is a great way forward."

Churches of all denominations were already working "in every community", he said. "The majority of food banks are church-run. Churches lead on debt counselling, have buildings in every community, both schools and centres for worship and community life. They provide cohesion, and demonstrate love and commitment."

He described the challenge as "a gigantic task of a generation", but said: "Within our ranks is the capacity, if we work together, work locally, and build great partnerships and coalitions" to change.

Archbishop Welby's speech was warmly received by the conference delegates, as much for what he said as for the humorous way it was delivered.

The conference host, the BBC's Home Editor, Mark Easton, introduced the Archbishop as "a man who heads an organisation with a multi-billion-pound property portfolio that includes some of the most prime sites in the country.His real estate houses tens of thousands of key workers and their families.

"He also provides retirement homes in the rental sector, and, more recently, shared ownership. In addition to that, he also has a commercial property portfolio valued at £1.6 billion, with houses in exclusive neighbourhoods such as Chelsea, Maida Vale, and around Hyde Park."

In response, the Archbishop joked that the introduction was "as accurate as all reports by the BBC".

Project's investors help homeless back on feet

by Paul Wilkinson

THE Archbishop of Canterbury is backing Green Pastures, a project that works with churches to provide homes for people living on the streets.

Based on Merseyside, it provides finance and expertise to allow local "partners" to buy properties and help the homeless to return to mainstream life.

It started in Southport, in 1999, when a group of Christians decided to help homeless people, and set out to collect funds to buy a property. Donations included £20,000 raised through a mortgage on the donor's home. Within five years they had accepted their first partner, and today Green Pastures has a national network of 30 groups, which support more than 445 people.

Each partner agrees to house and care for the homeless in properties it finds, which are then bought by Green Pastures. The partner pays a monthly lease, and maintains the property. The charity also sets up a volunteer team to help with matters such as bills, family advice, and claiming benefits.

One group is the Saviour Trust, started by the Revd Victor Iwanushcak, of All Saints', Pontefract, in West Yorkshire. He began by housing a homeless man in his garden shed. The trust now accommodates more than 50 people.

In Sheffield, Green Pastures helped the multi-denominational church St Thomas's, Philadelphia, to take over a disused pub and convert it to house five homeless people. This year, St Thomas's has gained permission for five purpose-built flats to provide further accommodation.

Green Pastures is currently receiving more than £300,000 a month from Christian investors, who get a five-per-cent annual return. So far this year, it has bought 18 bed-spaces. In addition, it has just secured planning permission to build 97 social-housing units in partnership with St Mark's, Barking, the Berkeley Foundation, and Barking Council.

The organisation's co-founder, Peter Cunningham, said: "We believe that the Church can eradicate homelessness, and we want to facilitate that. The Archbishop of Canterbury is absolutely right when he speaks about the Church having the power to transform society, and looking at the partners we have in the Anglican community, it is starting to happen."

For more information, visit www.greenpastures.net, or phone 0300 365 4500.

 

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