Geoff Knott
Housing associations and churches working together


Housing Justice and The Centre for Theology and Community released a report in June 2015 entititled ' Our Common Heritage. Housing Associations and churches working together.' It explores the partnerships which housing associations and local churches have already established and highlights examples of good practice. It also looks to the future and suggests how these partnerships could – and should - be strengthened, for the common good. 

Housing associations in the UK now manage two and a half million homes for more than five million people. These private not-for-profit organisations provide social housing in almost every community.

Churches, likewise, are present in every community in the UK.With five and a half million members across all denominations, they represent the largest grassroots community network in the UK, actively serving their local communities in many ways.

In a speech to the National Housing Federation in 2013, the Archbishop of Canterbury challenged housing associations and churches to work more closely together, as partners in regeneration. He cited their ‘common heritage’.

Our national housing challenges are a key issue for churches - not just because their members are affected as individual citizens, but because land and housing are key issues in Christian social thought. Homes and neighbourhoods are more than simply assets to be traded. They are gifts from God, and they also have a significance which is bound up with the story and history of the people who live in them. At the heart of the Bible and of Christian Social Teaching is this question: How do our material relationships and our economic exchanges help us to grow in communion with God and neighbour?

If churches are to call for others to make housing a priority, they will have to consider how they steward their property – and how congregations might offer practical support to housing associations. These institutions of civil society have an intrinsic value – “they, rather than the market and state, are the building-blocks of true community,…small enough not to need every activity to be codified, through which we can learn to work together in trust, not just according to rules.” Church of England, (2015) Who is my neighbour?

Experience suggests that churches (of all denominations) can work closely with housing associations (both secular and otherwise) and do so quite happily and effectively through various ways:

Church land for social housing
Volunteer involvement
Meeting spiritual needs
Political support on housing issues
Specialist housing provision for missional workers and retired clergy
Social investment in housing
There are many opportunities for further partnership working. With greater awareness of the possibilities and good communication and the management of expectations more of this potential could be realised. The report suggests the following to help replication:

Co-operation needs to be a top priority, not an afterthought. There is a need for the leaders of churches and the housing association sector to develop a stronger mutual understanding.
We need to be clear about what holds us back – and tackle it head-on
Churches need to see this as a central priority in their work for the Common Good
Churches and housing associations need to work together to build political support for social housing.
Local people and housing developments can be linked back together through more community-based social investment.
Social housing needs to be managed in a more relational way – better balancing the commercial considerations with the needs and voices of local people.