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24 November 2017

Home-ownership: are we selling out?

Andy Frost is director of Share Jesus International. 

So the red box arrived in parliament this week as the chancellor, Philip Hammond, shared the next Budget. With a weakening economy, uncertainty about Brexit and fears over public finances, it was interesting to see how the Government's purse was allocated. 

And one of the big headlines was about housing. The chancellor had already promised to make it easier for the next generation to get on the housing ladder and in this budget he pledged £44 billion of capital investment to deliver 300,000 new homes and abolished stamp duty for most first-time buyers in England and Wales. 

Somewhere, wrapped in these promises, is a deep held belief that owning your own home is a good thing. But is it a good thing and should this underlying value dictate how we spend the Budget? 

Our friends on the continent don't seem to have this same fascination with owning their own homes. About 60 per cent of British people own their own homes compared to 50 per cent of French people and only 39 per cent of Germans. 

Why are we different? Maybe it has something to do with the phrase, 'An Englishman's home is his castle'. In the present era, the phrase could just as easily be an 'English woman's home' and this idea of owning our own home is common all across the British Isles. But captured within this phrase is the idea that the home is a refuge, a safe place where we have dominion. Perhaps another of the Budget's announcements of £20 million for a scheme to support renting for the homeless and vulnerable renters at risk of homelessness recognises this. 

And so, with stamp duty dropped and all these new homes on the horizon, should we be encouraging the next generation to get a mortgage? 

In the UK today, it seems wise to get on the property ladder if at all possible. Rather than paying rent to line someone else's pockets, you are paying in to something which should at least hold its value. It's a good investment, people say. 

Or are we just selling out to earthly wisdom? After all, Jesus never owned his own pad. He had to rely upon others. 

Perhaps, when we own a property, we are less free to follow God's call wherever the Spirit leads us? In the words of John, "The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit." (John 3:8) And perhaps, when we own our own home, we can all too easily become isolated from the world 'in our castle'. We can become more focused on DIY than God's great commission. 

Now there will be many Christians that never even get the opportunity to buy their own home. We live in a very divided world with the 'haves and the have nots'. The church has a role to prophetically challenge this inequality; offer hospitality, champion social mobility. But there are also a whole swath of Christians who can afford to buy and are wrestling through whether or not to take on a mortgage. 

In my opinion, I think we should encourage those who are able, to buy. I believe, that by owning a property, we become stewards of a kingdom resource, that can provide hospitality and welcome to those around us. But more than that, owning a home puts a stake in the ground. It's about making a commitment to an area. 

When you own a home, you become more concerned about your neighbourhood and your community. You are invested. The prophet Jeremiah, speaking to the Israelites in captivity said, "Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce." (Jeremiah 29:5) The people are in exile, longing to one day return to their homeland, but Jeremiah tells them to build homes. By building homes, they were committing to the long haul and able to begin to be a part of that society. 

So whether your plans to get on the property ladder have been given a boost this week, or  you've owned your pad for a while or you've had seven addresses this year alone, ask yourself this: "Is my home my castle, or can it be my stake in the ground?"

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash