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Church will play its part in tackling housing crisis, Welby pledges

21 January 2021

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A view of Liverpool Cathedral from Caning Street

A view of Liverpool Cathedral from Caning Street

PEOPLE caught in poverty are bearing the brunt of a serious housing crisis, made worse by the pandemic, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said. That eight million people in this country live in unaffordable, insecure, or unsustainable housing is an issue of justice that must be tackled now, he said on Monday.

Archbishop Welby was speaking in advance of the publication next month of the report by the Archbishops’ Commission on Housing, Church and Community (ACHCC), which will advocate increased collaboration between churches, housing associations, and communities (News, 12 April 2019).

The Commission has established five core values that it suggests will set a new standard for what good housing should look like, and ensure that everyone has a good home. First, houses should be safe — free from dangers like damp, fire, intruders or cold — and warm, “a place where we feel protected and at home”, the Archbishop said in new video promoting the work of the Commission.

Second, they should be stable — “Many people live in fear of the constant threat of eviction” — and affordable: “Places where individuals and and families can settle and put down roots without the fear of disruption.”

Third, they should be sustainable. “We need to create housing that that does not harm our planet but sustains the balance of the natural world we live in and depend on, for now and for future generations,” he explained. They must also be sociable, with “enough space inside and outside to socialise, exercise, interact, to get to know our neighbours, and be part of a community”.

Finally, they should be satisfying, using efficient, innovative design and technology to create spaces that are comfortable, “a place where we truly belong”.

Archbishop Welby continued: “Now more than ever, we are each and all called to respond to this crisis. If we adopt these values that the Housing Commission has suggested, we can make sure that no one faces the injustice of poor housing, that everyone has a good home.”

Charlie Arbuthnot, who chairs the Commission, has described the housing crisis as multi-faceted. “The pandemic has energised community action on an unprecedented scale, and churches and housing associations are both seeking to nurture and extend this beyond Covid-19,” he writes in the journal Inside Housing, in conjunction with Matthew Corbett, director of the the L&Q Foundation.

In the article, also published on Monday, he writes: “In many places, the traditional services and actors have departed, so churches and housing associations, as ever present, are left attempting to fill the void and this will continue.

Diocese of ChelmsfordThe Bishop of Chelmsford-elect, the Rt Revd Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani, who has been appointed as the first bishop for housing in the C of E

“Stewardship is the responsible management of resources for today and generations to come. With the emergence of stewardship as a guiding principle in planning reform, we are seeing a convergence of social and physical objectives, which makes greater collaboration between churches and housing associations more compelling than ever.

“Housing associations and churches are able to take a long-term, patient view to creating value in their communities, because it is in their mutual interest, and those of their residents and parishes, to create it.

“Many churches have a vision for neighbourhood transformation and run a wide range of high-quality programmes for the benefit of the communities in which they operate. Building the right working relationship with appropriate churches can accelerate the aims of housing associations and vice versa.”

The Commission had reviewed the biblical narrative on housing, listened to those most directly affected by the housing crisis, and sought the views of a wide range of housing practitioners, Mr Arbuthnot said. The five core values set a plumb line for what “good” should look like in the housing world, and had been welcomed by those of all faiths and none.

Recent reports commissioned by the National Churches Trust concluded that the financial value of the services and support that churches provided, and the health and well-being they created for their communities, equated to £12.4 billion a year. “We are therefore confident that the missions of the Church and the Housing Association sector can be fully aligned,” Mr Arbuthnot said.

Archbishop Welby told Inside Housing: “I hope very much that one outcome of the Housing, Church and Community Commission will be a deepened working relationship between housing associations and churches. If we bring our combined skills and resources to bear, we can make a significant difference in our communities.”

St Brides, Trafford, stands as a model of this approach. When its Victorian building was condemned, the Trafford Housing Trust offered to build a new church free of charge in exchange for the land: something of benefit to the church, the housing association, and the wider community. Alongside the church, the Limelight centre was built, with 81 extra-care of apartments for over-55s and a new expanded community centre.

As part of the work of the Commission, the Bishop of Chelmsford-elect, the Rt Revd Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani, has been appointed as the Church’s first lead bishop for housing. One of her tasks will be to implement the recommendations of Commission when they are published next month. She, and the Bishop of Barking, the Rt Revd Peter Hill, as deputy, will work to ensure that the Church helps to resolve the housing crisis using, wherever possible, its own land.

Archbishop Welby said of the appointment on Monday: “I am delighted that Bishop Guli will fulfil this role, bringing, as she does, enormous understanding of the disadvantaged and disenfranchised to this important work. Housing is an issue of justice, which Jesus cares about intimately. My prayers will be with her as she embarks upon this vital role, and with all those who suffer from unsafe, unsuitable or unaffordable housing.”

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