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UK News

Church of England urged to use its own land to deliver affordable homes and help solve housing crisis

by Press Association

The Church of England should lead by example, including delivering more truly affordable homes on its own land, to help solve the housing crisis.

That's according to a landmark report published Sunday by the Archbishops’ Commission on Housing, Church and Community which recommended that the Church examined how its 6,000 acres of "strategic land" could be used to deliver more affordable housing.

The Commission of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York on Housing, Church and Community has spent nearly two years researching the "housing crisis" in England.

Its new "Coming Home" report warned that around eight million people of all ages live in "overcrowded, unaffordable, or unsuitable homes", while those in poverty "bear the brunt of this injustice".

It added: "The scale and consequences of the housing crisis have been further exposed by the Covid-19 pandemic, and it is a national scandal."

The 10-member strong commission called for a "bold, coherent, long-term housing strategy" from the Government, while arguing that the Church should use its land assets to "promote more truly affordable homes".

According to their report, the Church Commissioners manage £8.7 billion of assets, with roughly 15% in various land holdings.

Some 3% of the portfolio, 6,000 acres, is held as "strategic land" suitable for housing, with the report recommending a review is carried on whether such assets could be used for affordable homes and the Church "not simply be driven towards land sales at the highest price".

The legal framework for selling church assets should be amended so church land and buildings can be used for "social and environmental, as well as economic, benefit", the report also recommended.

Charlie Arbuthnot is the Chair of the Archbishop's Commission on housing church and community, he told Premier there's questions that the church commissioners will have to ask:

"They can't just say, we've got this fund, it can all go to housing, because then there's all sorts of other things you can't go to. So it's not a simple question to answer. But I think what we are saying is, our feeling is that there probably are ways in which may be that 6000 acres could be used to deliver a higher amount of affordable housing than the strict demand to local authority is requiring."

As part of its research, the commission interviewed representatives from more than 40 church-linked housing projects across the country.

Initiatives cited in the report include almshouses in Thatcham, Berkshire, affordable micro-homes in Cambridge and a church hall converted to accommodate homeless young people in Blackburn, Lancashire.

To add impetus to such initiatives, the Archbishop of Canterbury, The Most Reverend Justin Welby, has submitted a General Synod motion which recognises that "housing and communities are part of the mission and ministry of the Church of England".

A newly appointed "Bishop for Housing", Guli Francis-Dehqani - currently Bishop of Loughborough, and an executive team will "embed this vision within the Church" and support dioceses in "using their land well," the commission report said.

Overall, the report argued that homes should be sustainable, safe, stable, sociable and satisfying.

It criticised the housing policy track record of successive governments, which it said were characterised "by short-term interventions and announcements, and an extraordinary focus on the annual rate of new build".

The report argued that housing needs were "too important to be dictated by short term, narrow, party political objectives".

Speaking to Premier, Charlie Arbuthnot added there's currently an imbalance of power between landlords and tenants in the country and some of the housing provision he'd seen was "gut wrenching."

"And we're saying we must readjust that - we must give tenants a good, genuine voice. And we must ensure they're properly looked after. So shocking is not a strong enough word, gut wrenching would be better. I did some of the study visits, other commissioners did other ones and we all came back with the same story."

Over the last 20 years, three million homes were built in England, the commission highlighted, but said this been accompanied by the addition of 2.6 million households renting privately.

It called on the Government to provide greater protection for private sector tenants through longer-term security of tenure and placing a duty of care on all landlords.

The commission also urged ministers to review the social security system because it "fails" to provide adequate housing support for low-income household and recommended the restoration of Local Housing Allowances to median rents in each local area.

The Government should maximise public land use for affordable housing, and commit to improve and reduce the need for temporary accommodation, the report said.

Increased public capital subsidy would help "bridge the gap" between open housing market prices and affordable prices, it argued.

Commissioners also said the "cladding crisis" must be addressed with "real urgency", adding that the Government should commit to remove unsafe cladding on all residential blocks by June 2022 and protect for leaseholders from remediation costs.

Mr Welby welcomed the report's "challenge to the Church", which he said was "uniquely placed" to "work to build not just more houses but truly affordable houses and stronger communities".

Charlie Arbuthnot, chair of the cCommission, said: "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."

A Government spokesman said: "We welcome and encourage the practical steps that the Church is taking to make more of their land available for affordable housing.

"We've delivered over 500,000 new affordable homes since 2010, and our new £11.5 billion Affordable Homes Programme will provide up to 180,000 new homes across the country - half of which will be for affordable and social rent.

"We're supporting renters by extending notice periods and banning bailiff enforcement of evictions for all but the most serious cases.

"We're spending billions of pounds to remove cladding so people's homes are safe and the most dangerous cladding is already gone or going from almost all high-rise buildings."

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