• Carol Barron

Churches stepping up to help solve the housing crisis

This article was first published in Touchstone in August 2021.

Some of you may recall our discussion paper for synods in August 2019 regarding parish investment in social housing which proposed using under-utilised church land for social housing and the establishment of a Methodist social housing fund. At that time there were just over 11,000 households on the social housing register. Less than two years later this number has more than doubled to over 24,000 households.[1] In March 2016, there were 3,349 households on the register[2] - so over the last five years the number of households that are waiting for permanent housing has increased seven fold.

You may have read the recent Stuff article by Amanda Cropp where she detailed what various churches were doing to help solve the housing crisis. Cropp pointed out that churches are asset rich and some are spending millions on building social and affordable housing on their own land.

The article referred to the recent Anglican Church report He waka eke noa – a waka we are all in together[3] that prompted the Anglican General Synod to pass a motion requiring those responsible for managing their assets to ensure that Anglican investments were mission-aligned and met the standards of fruitful stewardship. The report challenged the Anglican Church to consider the impacts of investment decisions and the worldwide move toward considering the impact of investments. The report quoted the American Business Roundtable where 181 CEOs debunked the idea of maximising shareholder value as their main goal, and the move in society which demands that both public and private companies serve a social purpose.

Socially responsible investing is not new to the Methodist Church, and perhaps we need to consider how we develop this further. Like the Anglican Church, it is time for us, Te Hāhi Weteriana as a whole, to consider the options:

1. Social and affordable housing and intentional community development on surplus or underutilised land.

We can build on our experience of doing this already. In 2020, the Christchurch Methodist Mission built an intentional social housing community on land owned by the Anglican Care. The development put 16 relocatable homes on land owned by Anglican Care where Churchill Court Rest Home used to be. These relocatable homes were previously used by people having their earthquake repairs done. Fifteen of the houses are used for long term social housing and there is a community house which provides a space for neighbours to gather. A community garden and a children’s playground has also been added.

Te Taha Māori Property Trust developed Tū Maia Ki Te Ao five houses in Mangere East with the expertise of Airedale Property Trust. Airedale Property Trust also partnered with Lotofale’ia Mangere Tongan Methodist Parish to design and build eight units especially for Pasifika families. And most recently Wesley Community Action is partnering with the Hastings Samoan Parish to develop housing for their local community.

2. Could unproductive church property be used to leverage opportunities?

Underutilised land presents an opportunity for collaborations between a parish and the local mission to build social housing. This would not only meet the need for housing but also strengthen the relationship and bonds between parishes and missions. Some of the Methodist Missions are registered community housing providers and therefore have the expertise and experience to undertake the building and management of social housing. These Methodist agencies are able to offer parishes the development and project management expertise to build social housing. They would also provide the expertise to manage the property as well as the tenancies and provide wrap around supports to the tenants. This means that the parish does not have to find this expertise within the parish. A government contract could provide funding towards the build and ongoing income support to the tenants. This means the parish has a guaranteed income from the lease of the land to the mission without the parish having to take on the responsibility of managing the tenancies.

3. Could the sale of unused property be applied to Impact Investment?

Perhaps now is the time for us as Te Hāhi Weteriana to prioritise unused property for social housing? If a parish, synod or trust has unused property, it could first offer the land to the local Methodist mission for use for social housing. The mission could lease the land from the parish to build social housing and provide the parish with a guaranteed income. Alternatively, the mission could buy the land from the parish. Both options ensure that land ownership remains with Te Hāhi Weteriana.

If the land is not in an area where there is a need for social housing and the sale of the land proceeds, the Methodist agency might consider using the sale proceeds for social housing. A Methodist Social Housing Fund which would sit alongside MTA and CB&L as an additional option for parishes to invest in.

4. Climate change related investments

As responsible stewards of our assets, now is the time to consider whether our investments are prioritising environmental, social good to bring about positive change as well as a return on the investment.

The Anglican report encouraged open and honest dialogue as well as an acknowledgement that the church has the resources and opportunities to be “fruitful stewards of our plentiful resources.”[4]

Te Hāhi Weteriana o Aotearoa has a proud history of social justice and our Wesleyan tradition that marries ‘Word’ and ‘Deed’ and the wider gospel imperative to be ‘Good News to the poor.’ As our General Secretary, Rev Tara Tautari, said at Conference 2020, we are committed to working for the most vulnerable in our communities. We have the assets, expertise and skills to ensure that we are doing all we can to help the most vulnerable and provide them with a home to live in.

Imagine what we could achieve if we worked more closely together and had the courageous conversations to use our resources with a socially responsible mission aligned impact.

Carol Barron, National Coordinator

03 375 0512 | 027 561 9164 |

[1] Ministry of Housing & Urban Development Public Housing Monthly Updated April 2021, p3. [2] Ministry of Social Development Housing Register March 2021. [3] He waka eke noa – A waka we are all in together – Fruitful Stewardship through Mission Aligned Investment, Report from the Motion 11 Small Working Group presented to the Anglican General Synod May 2020 [4] He waka eke noa – A waka we are all in together – Fruitful Stewardship through Mission Aligned Investment, p25

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