by John Battle.

The national  homelessness charity HOUSING JUSTICE, formed from the Catholic Housing Aid Society  has for some years now worked to build and enable local groups and churches to provide practical help to people in housing need.

The recent “Faith in Affordable Housing“ project is campaigning to release surplus land or buildings for affordable housing much needed now in all areas of Britain. This initiative includes helping Churches link with local housing associations and affordable housing developers to generate practical working partnerships which will deliver.

While there is encouragingly much more public talk of the need to increase the supply of housing, unfortunately when examining the detail of last week’s Autumn Statement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the proposed measures suggested to increase house building are likely to lead to less homes being built!  The Office for Budget Responsibility has pointed out that restrictions on the way housing associations are funded will actually lead to 13,000 fewer homes being built over the next five years. It added that the announced stimulus to house builders will only partially make up this short fall at best.  Once again the law of ‘unintended consequences’ or rather, one part of the budget being undermined by leaving in place previous cuts, kicks in. The net result will be a decrease in house building yet again in the coming years. As a rear-guard action, the government is now proposing to speed up house builders by overriding local planning blockages on the release of land to developers for building. But the greater problem remains the continuation of land hoarding by building companies who are themselves supported by government subsidies. In the Autumn Statement the Chancellor gave £1.4 billion in taxpayer subsidies to stimulate an affordable homes programme and a further £1.7 billion for developers to build on public land. Yet these subsidy receiving companies, Britain’s largest builders, have seen their annual profits soar while failing to meet previously set affordable house building targets.

The house building companies are now coming under pressure from all quarters and are being accused of keeping the house building supply low to drive up their profits whilst hoarding over 450,000 undeveloped building plots. The lack of affordable housing crisis has been described as  Britain’s biggest ‘public policy failure”. For over three decades just enough have not been built. Sold off council homes have not been replaced.. There is now a national shortfall of 2 million homes. Housing associations and councils should be encouraged to build more, not squeezed out. A major government “White Paper” on housing policy is due soon. As Churhces we all need to pitch in to this opportunity to develop a vision for affordable homes for the future. Not only do more homes need to be built to buy and to rent but they need to be affordable according to actual family and personal incomes. Limiting landlord high rent charges, for example, would save on housing benefit subsidy. But reconnecting housing as a basic need to the real economy would be a good start.

In the meantime on 22nd January 2017, the annual churches “Homeless Sunday” should be an occasion of prayer and action.

logo for Homeless SundayHomeless Sunday has been celebrated for over 15 years. It enables Christians to pray for those in their own community who are homeless as well as to look at how they can commit to new practical action.

See the Housing Justice website for resources that they make available to help people mark this Sunday in their own communities.