Churchgoers call for 100,000 houses a year

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More than 2,000 churchgoers lobbied Parliament yesterday to press for greater investment in housing, in the first national church lobby on homelessness.

Chief among their demands is that the Government should provide 100,000 affordable homes every year until 2000, by building new ones and by bringing into use some of the 768,000 existing empty homes.

Speaking at a press conference to launch the lobby, Charles Hendry, Conservative MP and joint chairman of the All-Party Group on Homelessness, said there were 75,000 empty council houses which should be brought back into use, 'by changing the law to make it compulsory, if necessary'. He said empty offices with no prospect of being let should be converted into homes.

But Neil Gerrard MP, of the Labour Housing Group, said there could no be solution to the housing problem without more investment, from both public and private sector: 'From poor housing all sorts of other ills follow, such as poor health and poor educational performance.'

Sister Paula, Daughter of Charity of St Vincent de Paul who works at the Passage day centre for homeless people in central London, said: 'The pounds 600m in the Autumn Statement for housing is not enough. If you can't buy a house or you are unemployed, you will not get housing in this country at the moment. We talk about a Citizen's Charter, but I am listening to people who are non-citizens in every sense.'

The lobby was organised by the Churches' National Housing Coalition, which is also asking for a 'tenant's charter', reform of housing subsidies and replacement of bed and breakfast accommodation.

The Archbishop of Canterbury gave strong support to the lobby, but other Christians were critical. Stephen Green, chairman of the Christian pressure group Conservative Family Campaign, which has 30 Conservative MPs as sponsors, said yesterday: 'If Christian leaders spent a fraction of the effort that has gone into this lobby on helping couples and families stay together . . . the Government would take them more seriously.'

(Photograph omitted)