The Housing Crisis - WWJD?

Housing CrisisThe clock struck midnight. On the television the fireworks over the Thames hailed the beginning of the New Year. I felt a strange sense of relief. 2015 had held many unanswered questions for our family. I was ready to welcome a more settled 2016.

Little did I know that only 3 weeks later the rented house our family had called home for 4 years would be sold and we would soon have nowhere to live.

 

Monopoly HousesAs I looked for a place I could live with my 2 year old, 4 year old and husband, I was shocked to discover how much rent had risen by since our last move. To get the same house again (a modest two-bed terraced house) we were looking at an increase of £250 a month – an increase of over a third. The places I looked round were not worth the money, riddled with damp and in questionable states of repair. We were faced with a dilemma: we could pay over the odds for a house and end any hopes of being able to save for one of our own, or uproot the family at short notice:- from friends, school and church, to live in a town 20 miles away where it was marginally cheaper. It seemed like no choice at all.

But then the miracle happened. As I was about to sign on the line for a new house and a whole new life, I received a text about a family from our church who were looking to rent their house out at the time we needed to move. I immediately called and visited the house that afternoon. I crossed the threshold and fell in love. It was everything I could dream of. And the most incredible part: our landlady had decided to rent it out at well below the market value. ‘This house has been a blessing to us,’ she told me. ‘We would like to use it to bless others in turn.’

……………..

Tower Blocks in ErdingtonThis is our story of how the so-called housing crisis has impacted us – but there are thousands in infinitely worse situations than us. My husband and I have professional jobs and earn a decent wage. What hope is there for those on lower wages, with a chronic lack of social housing? Shelter estimates that 117 families lose their homes every day. Those who manage to scrape their rent together still face the stresses on family life and relationships that come from growing financial burdens and the general insecurity of being in such a powerless position. And there seems no end in sight. In 2014 there were nearly 14,000 people on the waiting list for council housing in my home city of Bristol. In March 2015, the council announced a building scheme that would see 100 new homes built over 2 years. A year on, only 4 have so far been completed.

Who is to blame for the crisis? Was it the lack of a coherent housing strategy from previous and current governments? Market forces? Immigration? In some respects, this is not the immediate issue. Regardless of where it’s come from the more pressing question is, what’s the solution?

It may not be a complete one, but my landlady may be onto something that could go a little way towards turning the tide. What would happen if a group of people who truly understood what it meant to be blessed circumvented the apparently indestructible market forces, and burst the bubble with radical generosity?

Radical generosity is not a new concept. In Acts we read about early Christians willing to give sacrificially: ‘From time to time, those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need’ (Acts 4:34-35). History proves that wealth was no less valued in Roman times than it is today. But those first Christians evidently valued it far less than the grace they had encountered. They took stock of the assets they had and found a way of using them to bless those who needed it most.

I spoke to a representative of one of the city’s Housing Associations who said that they were always on the look-out for private landlords who would be willing to let their houses through them. It sounded like a no brainer: the Association would look after all management of the property and contact with tenants while charging no extortionate fees. But the problem they encountered was one of incentive. How do you persuade people to accept a lower rental return than they might gain through letting with a private agency?

Detached HouseThe Church has to be the answer to this. We serve one who had no place to lay his head, but accepted the hospitality of friends (Matt 8:20). We serve one who taught that every time we feed the hungry, clothe the naked – perhaps in this instance house the homeless – we do it for him (Matt 25: 34-40). We serve one who warned us not to build up treasures on earth but instead store up treasures in heaven (Matt 6:19-22). We serve one who has promised we will not be short-changed-when we make the Kingdom of God our priority (Matt 6:33).

What’s more, the Church has an incredible legacy of stepping up when systems fail. Prison reform, healthcare, universal education – the Church has led the way. In recent years the Trussell Trust have shone a light on hidden poverty and helped millions in dire need through the Food Bank programme. Could Christian landlords now lead the way in providing hope for the hundreds of thousands of families struggling under the burden of spiralling rent?

I’m no economist. I accept I could also be terribly naïve. But it must be worth a conversation at least. Because I am willing to believe that money is not the only currency in this world. Grace can go further – if we let it.

 

 

Rachel Noyce

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