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Housing

The Church of England is getting into homebuilding to ‘turn the tide of the housing crisis’

The Archbishop of Canterbury announced plans to develop new social housing with the promise: “If you’re building a more just society, housing is one of the main building blocks”.

The Church of England has announced it is setting up a national housing association to become a major provider of social housing tackling the housing crisis.

Church leaders first discussed the possibility of developing homes on surplus land last year with its Coming Home report investigating the lack of affordable housing across the country and appointed Bishop Guli Francis-Dehqani as its first Bishop of Housing.

Now, one year on, church and industry leaders have met to build on plans for 30,000 new homes, including 9,000 affordable homes, from 60 sites across England.

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Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said: “The priority of the housing crisis is getting worse rather than better because of high levels of inflation and very rapidly rising levels of poverty, with incomes rising far below the level of inflation, and the likelihood of recession – all these have put enormous pressure on housing.

“If you’re building a more just society, housing is one of the main building blocks.”

Welby told Big Issue vendor Lee Welham that he intended to put a “huge proportion of the Church of England’s inherited wealth into affordable housing” in an interview last year. 

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Now the Archbishop has called for “radical imagination” to approach the housing crisis.

A lack of affordable homes is one of the key drivers behind surging house prices as well as rising rents – both have increased by record amounts in the last year.

The church intends to set up a housing association to reach “more marginalised areas where the need is greatest”.

“This degree of social change – which we could think of as “levelling up”, rooted in the visions and values we derive from our faith – requires more land and buildings than we currently have, and it needs to be deliverable to every part of the country,” said Bishop Francis-Dehqani.

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“If we only develop housing on the land we currently own, we’ll never bring about the justice we long to see, nor will it be enough to turn the tide of the current housing crisis. That’s why we are proposing to set up a Church Housing Association which will enable us to deliver housing, social change and ministry funding beyond the realms of our existing inheritance into more marginalised areas where the need is greatest.”

The church has already seen 400 homes allocated in local plans in Gloucester with 40 per cent of those homes “truly affordable housing”, according to Benjamin Preece Smith, the Diocesan Secretary for the Diocese of Gloucester.

A further investment in living pods to house vulnerable people will also be made on land marked for future development to support people while homes are being built, he added.

It’s an area where the current housing crisis is failing people, according to Church Commissioners for England’s Alan Smith.

He said: “We want to begin to push into areas of affordable housing where there is a big gap, and where the truly vulnerable are not being served right now.”

The Conservative government committed to targeting 300,000 new homes a year in the 2019 manifesto but has yet to hit that mark.

In recent weeks Housing Secretary Michael Gove has moved away from the target. He told BBC’s Today programme earlier this month: “Ultimately, when you’re building a new dwelling, you’re not simply trying to hit a statistical target. I’m certainly not.”

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