'I can't afford a home'

Our surveys have shown that finding a  home is a major issue for single people. In country areas, there is often a lack of suitable housing, while in the big cities the problem is affordability. 

This article offers some practical advice on how to support single people in your congregation.

Single members of your church may struggle to find and afford suitable accommodation. Here’s how you can advise and assist them in finding somewhere to call ‘home’

By Catherine Francis

'My people will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest.' (Isaiah 32 v 18)

With the cost of accommodation spiralling out of control, especially in big cities, members of your congregation may struggle to find somewhere affordable to live, where they can be happy and healthy.

The days of being able to buy your first home early in your career and be mortgage-free by middle age are long gone for most people. Even renting their ‘own place’ may be out of the question for many church members. And with an ever-increasing percentage of people’s income spent on mortgage or rent, they may be less able to save, leaving them in a more precarious position if they run into employment problems or financial difficulties.

This is true for anyone in your congregation, but single people are particularly vulnerable. Recent research found that on average, a single person would have to save for 10 years longer than a couple to get a deposit for their first home (13 years compared to three). In London, it’s even worse – the average couple would have to save for eight years to buy their first home, whereas a single person would take 46 years!

So how can you help single parishioners who are struggling to find somewhere suitable to live, or are unhappy in their current circumstances? And how can you support those who feel they’ve failed because they haven’t achieved the independence they’d like? Single church members share their suggestions…

‘Raise awareness of different living arrangements’

Buying a property is the goal of many people, but with house prices and the cost of living rising all the time, it’s no longer practical for a lot of us. Even renting alone may not be viable. Point out to church members that owning your own place is a very British obsession that isn’t shared by many other European countries. And living alone doesn’t suit everyone, frequently leading to loneliness and isolation. Single people often have more flexibility in choosing their living situations, so encourage them to be open to alternative models of living, and to think creatively about the benefits. For instance, many people grow and thrive, both personally and spiritually, living in community, such as a houseshare or as a lodger in a family home. Point church members to the article, which explores the options in more detail.

‘Don’t add to my financial pressure’

Single people have to cover all their living expenses alone, while also perhaps trying to save for a future home, so it’s a slap in the face when they’re penalised by single supplements and two-for-one deals. Be mindful of single people’s finances when planning church events. For instance, in a major survey of single Christians by Christian Connection, people reported feeling particularly upset when discounts were offered to married couples for church events, even when both individuals were earning a good salary.

‘Help remove the shame of not having my own place’

For many decades, having your ‘own place’ has been seen as a mark of adulthood, and not achieving that can leave people feeling like they’ve failed. However, living alone is no longer feasible for many people, even those with good jobs and incomes, so we need to find a new way of thinking. In many countries, it’s the norm for adults (single and married) to live at home with their parents, and research shows that multi-generation households often results in members being healthier and happier, and living longer. Assure church members that there’s no shame in living with parents or in a shared house. Instead, focus on communal living as a positive choice – for instance, being able to enjoy fellowship with flatmates or support ageing parents. Encourage those in a Christian houseshare to incorporate regular practices, such as praying together, saying grace or weekly Bible studies, into their lives. This can help to create a ‘household of faith’ where people encourage and nurture each other’s faith, and bring Christ into the centre of their home life.

‘Point me towards financial help and advice’

If single church members are struggling to manage their money or are unsure what they can afford, direct them towards help. Is there anyone in the congregation who is good with figures (for instance, professional accountants or book keepers, or the church treasurer) who could go through their finances with them and suggest a plan? For more specialist help, point them to Citizens Advice or an independent financial advisor or mortgage broker (www.unbiased.co.uk), who can talk through their options. Alert lower-income church members to local housing associations, Christian housing associations and trusts, and affordable home ownership schemes (www.gov.uk/affordable-home-ownership-schemes). Offer to be a referee, if appropriate. If people come to you with a housing crisis, be ready with the number of local emergency accommodation services.

‘Link me up with others in the church community’

Many Christians feel more comfortable and secure living with others who share their faith, and church communities are in an excellent position to put people in touch with each other. Have a noticeboard where people can advertise accommodation sought and offered, or find others for a houseshare. This could even extend across other churches in the area. Encourage church members to consider renting out a spare room, and publicise vacancies in the church newsletter. Be able to point church members to organisations such as:

‘Join a campaign for affordable housing’

Many churches are joining up with organisations such as Citizens UK to campaign on issues such as building more affordable homes, rent controls and better protection for tenants. Consider signing up your church as a member of your local chapter, and take action to improve life for people in your community. Encourage church members to play their part in local and national politics to help make a difference.

Related information

For further information to help you and your church member explore the different housing options and help available, visit here.

25 April 2016 edited 7 May to reflect more options in house-sharing