Housing Bishop Guli - The Big Issue

Bishop Guli writes for the Big Issue about the new Homes for All Report

23 April 2024

It takes all of us to fix the housing crisis, writes the Church of England's lead bishop for housing the Rt Rev Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani for the Big Issue

England’s housing crisis has been talked about so often that it has become routine and has lost the power to shock. Yet the underlying reality is not only shocking but deeply shameful – around eight million people living in overcrowded, unaffordable or unsuitable homes, a rising tide of rough sleepers, a record number of children living in temporary accommodation, rapidly growing numbers of people over 55 living in insecure privately rented homes, and a generation of middle-income earners who feel locked out of any prospect of ever owning their own home.

In February 2021, the Church of England published Coming Home, a report commissioned by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, with the ambitious remit of re-imagining housing policy and practice. For the Church, responding to the housing crisis is an integral part of our mission and ministry, particularly in so far as it affects the poorest and most marginalized in our communities. As well as seeking to influence government policy, the Church has an opportunity to lead by example, working alongside government, local authorities and others, to make better use of the land we own to provide more decent, affordable homes.

This isn’t new to the Church; for centuries hospitality and caring for people who have fallen on hard times has been central to the Church’s mission. Almshouses are a very visible expression of that, and the reason we’re getting involved again is that the housing crisis has deprived so many people of a place to call home, which is safe, affordable and set in a thriving community.

Multiple thoughtful and coherent reports have explored the causes and potential solutions to the crisis. Almost all agree that a fundamental problem is that England lacks any kind of long-term housing strategy. Housing is by its very nature a long-term issue. And yet almost all measures tried have been short-term initiatives, many of which have made things worse, not better. Too many interventions are aimed at appealing to voters or else tackle one issue without appreciating how that might impact the rest of the housing system.

The recently published Homes for All Report from the Nationwide Foundation, the Church of England and the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence doesn’t produce another set of policy options but seeks to address the root cause: we have no long term, cross party, national housing strategy. There is no collective vision of what the purpose of housing policy is, or what it is designed to achieve. We have no shared understanding of what good looks like.

The report makes a compelling case that housing is a system, not a single issue sitting in isolation. And that system has failed to deliver the outcomes we need. This systemic failure needs a systemic response, and that requires long-term thinking and implementation.

It follows that any strategy that is going to guide decision-making for 20 or 30 years must have cross-party support. And the report proposes a new governance mechanism, accountable to parliament, to ensure that ministers are held to account for delivering the strategy and realising the long term vision to provide decent, safe and affordable homes for all.

As well as calling for support from across the political spectrum, the report appeals to the housing sector too. It will take a generation to remedy the failings in the current system. But this long horizon does not mean we have time on our hands. We must start immediately so that the earliest policy interventions can start to achieve the vision.

The responsibility for transforming England’s housing system doesn’t just rest with the government; with a clear long-term vision, we can all begin to pull in the same direction. That’s why the Church has started to take a more active role. Personally, I’ve been inspired by visiting the Duchy of Cornwall’s housing developments in Dorchester and Newquay, to see what difference a long term, well thought-through approach can make to providing homes for the whole community. They are attractive, high quality, energy efficient homes, made using local materials by SME housebuilders. These are mixed developments too, with at least 30% affordable homes, and ample community and employment spaces. The Duchy aims to ensure one job is created in the community for every house built, so that they aren’t just dormitory towns for commuters.

These ideas were championed by the King when he was Duke of Cornwall, and now his son Prince William is focusing on homelessness, which is the most acute symptom of the housing crisis. His Homewards initiative is piloting ways to bring together a whole community – businesses, charities, faith groups, local government – to try and make homelessness a thing of the past.

All these are long term initiatives that require sustained, long term commitment. Our hope is that the Homes for All message will inspire all of us to support the coalition of individuals and organisations that will work together to ensure our children and grandchildren will all be able to have a place to call home.

The Rt Rev Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani is the Bishop of Chelmsford and Church of England Lead Bishop for Housing

This article was originally published in The Big Issue.