A Radical Way To Buy Your Own Home - Thanks To God And Christian Mission
Can the Church solve the UK's housing crisis?
On Friday my husband and I completed on the purchase of our very first house. When we went to pick up the keys from an estate agent notorious for hiking up prices on ex-council properties, accelerating the recent rush of gentrification, my husband put his head in hands and said: 'I feel so ashamed. I hope no one sees us in here.'
Buying a house is a (privileged) choice we've grappled with over the last few years as we have tried and failed to buy several properties. I even gave a talk a few years back on why I didn't want to own a house before I was 40 because of how this kind of wealth accumulation increases inequality.
Stories of friends' housing issues and our own experiences of the instability of the rental market have left us asking more questions. Should Christians even own property? Aren't we wasting our money paying out rent for over-priced, run-down one-bed flats? Is there a way that we as the Church could come together to solve the housing crisis?
Last week the government published their much-anticipated white paper suitably titled,'Fixing our broken housing market'. Many of the proposals are welcome such as the intention to build more housing, and particularly a ban on letting agents fees which can be crippling when it comes to moving house. Yet, the paper has been criticised for not going far enough to address the immediate needs of marked-up rentals, soaring homelessness and an emphasis on building in the inner-city rather than give up any of the country's precious greenbelt.
When in reality 'affordable' means 80 per cent of market rate and the government admits that these new homes in cities will have to be even smaller, I can't imagine that living standards are going to improve particularly for those on lower incomes. Once again the government seem intent on pacifying the middle and upper classes many of whom enjoy the view from their spacious homes overlooking the greenbelt, and ignoring the needs of those lower down the chain.
Something more radical is called for.
But here we are, jangling the keys of our three-bedroom house with a garden and two (yes two) reception rooms? How given the current crisis are we here?
It might be more progressive than it looks on the surface. Yes we did get a mortgage but even with that huge loan, we own less than one-third of the property. There's no way we could have afforded more. In fact altogether about ten people have invested in our property as part of a shared ownership purchase with a housing association called Mission Housing. They help Christians wanting to live and serve in the inner city but find themselves struggling with huge costs of doing so. By partnering with people who want to make ethical investments, they are able to provide homes for or with youth, children's and community workers as well as volunteers and those working with their local churches.
The collaborative nature of the purchase releases from me a sense of 'ownership' over it. We'll live it but many will benefit financially including the Housing Association who will be enabled to buy properties for others across London, and those who have made small or large investments. It reminds me that nothing we are given is really ours but a gift from God to be wisely stewarded and used in worship to him. It makes me want to open the doors of the house to let others find a home and rest there, a welcome and space for them, hospitality and love.
Some friends of mine take this one step further. They live in a community house in Bristol and are also spiritually and financially invested in other community houses around the city. They believe it is better not to live in a house you have a financial investment in as it creates an unequal balance for those living in the property. When everyone is renting, everyone has shared responsibility for it; no one has the right to lord it over someone else, no one has the right to get more upset over a carpet trampled on with mud than anyone else.
There are other radical movements in the Church seeking to address some of our current housing issues such as Green Pastures who provide the opportunity for people to invest their money in a house for the homeless; currently over 780 homeless people are being housed and cared for by 50 partners such as local churches all over the UK.
Property ownership is something rarely discussed or challenged in the Church. It speaks to the heart of what we hold onto tightly and take pride in. I pray that as we move into our new home I will learn be to be open-handed with it; and that the Church wakes up to the disturbing reality of the nation's growing housing crisis.