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Churches urged to use land to help the needy

12 June 2015


Pioneer: Fr Basil Jellicoe with Prince George, the Duke of Kent, outside the Tavistock Arms pub in Somers Town, London, in April, 1930. The pub was run by churchmen under Father Jellicoe's scheme to improve the area 

Pioneer: Fr Basil Jellicoe with Prince George, the Duke of Kent, outside the Tavistock Arms pub in Somers Town, London, in April, 1930. The pu...

MANY churches have been sitting on under-used land for years, as the most needy in society struggle to find a home, a new report says.

Although it may be "entirely appropriate" for churches to seek the full market price for their land, others are guilty of "inactivity", and should consider their mission to serve the vulnerable, it argues.

The report Our Common Heritage: Housing associations and churches working together, by the Centre for Theology and Community and the charity Housing Justice, says that the Church cannot speak out on the housing crisis "without putting its own house in order". Churches across the denominations own "a surprising amount of land", it says.

"In some cases, churches will want and need the full market price for their land, and this may be entirely appropriate. Sometimes, housing associations can do this. There are also some situations where churches have proved willing and able to dispose of land to housing associations for less than market value."

The report seeks to reassure churches that this can be reconciled with charity law: "There is a strong argument to be made that, if such housing does indeed benefit the most marginalised and needy members of society, then it falls squarely into the mission of the Church."

It notes that "Many churches have been slow to consider development of their land of any kind - often sitting on under-used land for many years. . . Churches must rightly use their land wisely, and with the long-term in mind; but this has been used as an excuse by some for inactivity."

The report warns that "A city in which the poorest can no longer afford to live, in neighbourhoods like Somers Town or Notting Hill, but (as in Paris) are forced in to outer urban ghettoes - out of sight and out of mind . . . says something deeply un-Christian about which lives are of genuine value and significance."

Co-operation between churches and housing associations must be a "top priority", it says. It gives the example of the initiative Faith in Affordable Housing, delivered by Housing Justice, which provides free practical advice and support to churches and housing associations interested in providing new affordable housing on church land. Almost 100 affordable homes have been built in two years.

In a speech to the National Housing Federation in 2013, the Archbishop of Canterbury called for closer working between the Church and housing associations, and said that the Church Commissioners should invest some of their funds in housing associations (News, 27 September 2013).

A spokesperson from the Church Commissioners said that they were "long-established supporters of mixed tenure residential communities [a mix of private and social or shared ownership housing]. Working in partnership with house builders and housing associations across England, the commissioners deliver affordable and private housing in accordance with the requirements of individual local authorities."

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