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UK housing crisis: C of E report suggests law change to recognise social benefit

Posted on: March 1, 2021 12:00 PM
Coming Home: Tackling the housing crisis together
Photo Credit: Lambeth Palace

Church land and buildings should be used for social and environmental benefit, as well as economic benefit, according to a report by the Church of England’s new Housing Commission. The proposal would require a change to charity law, which currently requires assets to be used to maximise economic benefit.

Under English law, charities wishing to sell land or other assets must sell it to the highest bidder. Some of the land held by dioceses is “glebe land”, which is required by law to be held to fund clergy stipends. The report states that this approach to the disposal of land “risks the perception that the Church does not care about its communities and is more interested in money than mission”. It also says that dioceses should be empowered to dispose of such assets for “appropriate missional purposes”, rather than solely for ministry costs.

The church owns about 200,000 acres (just under 810 square km) of land, much of which is unsuitable for development. But a mapping exercise carried out by the Housing Commission has established that a significant proportion could be used to build affordable housing.

The report calls on the Church Commissioners for England, the institution that manages historical financial and land assets on behalf of the Church, to “lead in delivering increased levels of affordable housing and setting an example for others to follow.”

To help clarify the position within the Church, a motion has been submitted to the General Synod calling for a vote to confirm that “meeting housing needs is an integral part of the mission and ministry of the Church of England.”

The report, “Coming Home”, was published last Monday (22 February) by the Archbishops’ Commission on Housing, Church and Community. The Commission has 10 members, including housing experts, academics and theologians. It was set up as a response to the housing crisis in England and its report has been two years in the making.

The UK government’s own definitions of those in priority need for housing show that about half a million households are homeless or living in unsatisfactory conditions. The number of rough sleepers since 2010 is up by 165 per cent, and the number of households in temporary accommodation has grown by 82 per cent in the same time period. A total of 83,700 households were living in temporary accommodation in June 2020, and this figure included 127,890 children.

The report is centred on five core values; and says that good housing should be sustainable, safe, stable, sociable and satisfying. It sets out actions and recommendations for the Church of England, as well as recommendations for government and other sectors within the housing market. Among these recommendations is the call for the government to draw up a long-term, cross-party housing strategy to improve the quality and sustainability of the existing stock and increase the supply of truly affordable new housing. 

  • Click here to read the full report, and the list of recommendations (pdf)