Mortgages, Mammon and Buy to Let

Many years ago, as a teenager, I recall talking to an elder in my local church, prior to the 1987 General Election. Pondering on the choice the UK had, his outlook seemed driven by naked self-interest: “I really don’t care who gets in, so long as I don’t have to pay more tax.”

He was a good man who was a positive influence on me for many years, and I looked up to him and thank God for what he did for me. He had deeply held convictions about personal salvation and yet with the hindsight of decades, his faith in Jesus didn’t seem to affect his outlook on social issues or the deprivations of those less well off than himself.

Recently I’ve been wondering if this attitude also underpins Christian attitudes to buy to let mortgages and owning rental properties. I’d hazard a guess many of us go to churches where a small handful of members have built up useful portfolios of at least three to four homes.

But what are the consequences of this? Many people, particularly those under 40, have become effectively locked out of the housing market. They are trapped in a vicious circle, paying so much out in rent that they can’t afford to save for a deposit for a mortgage, and in addition face house prices inflated by the number of properties bought by buy to let landlords.

And whilst that’s just one of many aspects of generational unfairness we could reflect on, buy to let is meanwhile seen as clever and savvy, and those who have become landlords are to be admired.

Dig into a concordance and you’ll find no Scripture that specifically teaches not to buy to let. But Jesus told us to love our neighbours as ourselves. Jesus said to do unto others as we’d have done unto us. Where should that take us? Who of us if we’re honest and had any choice wants to be on the tenant side of rental contracts?

Given most churches will have members on both sides of this divide, why is this such an ignored topic in the community of faith?

Truth be told, is there some weird kind of pseudo-Calvinistic thinking that goes unspoken by evangelical Christians and says some people will be landlords and some will be renters and that’s just how life’s cards are stacked? And hey ‘God helps those who help themselves’ so that a certain pulling themselves up by their bootstraps can get these people on the mortgage ladder one day, so long as they want it enough?

In a similarly unspoken way do some of us simply see some people as ‘other’ and ‘less than’ and not as entitled to the home ownership that we’ve enjoyed and aspire to for our children?

And are we so fixated with sin as personal and salvation as personal that we lack the imagination to see that some sin is systemic, and there is certain social disadvantage that is systemic? Are our eyes blind to the fact that our good middle class lives - including the seemingly benign goal of a nice buy to let portfolio - can be contributory factors to other peoples’ hopelessness and injustice?

Buy to let can be a means to a proverbial pile of wealth, but the only way to get to the top of a pile is to have people below you in said pile, and the moral challenge is that one person’s wealth is made off someone else’s grind of paying the rent on the first Monday of every month and knowing they’ll never quite get ahead, and never get off the renting wheel with all the consequences that prompts; postponing starting a family; dispiriting requests for small repairs; not being able to decorate without permission.

Jesus said that foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head. He was an itinerant Rabbi who lived in a society two thousand years but a million miles from the UK in 2017, but I wonder if he wants us to know today that maybe loving our neighbour as ourselves, and submitting all of our lives to Him, means one person owning one house is…

Enough.

I wonder if Jesus wants to remind us there’s more than enough room in our Father’s home and he’s gone there to prepare a place for us: that’s the hope that really matters and that’s where our security comes from.

Colin Neill is the author of Turas – A Story of Strangers in a Strange Land – and a Contemporary Christianity Board Member.

Please note that the statements and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Contemporary Christianity.

 

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5 Responses to Mortgages, Mammon and Buy to Let

  1. Puran Agrawal says:

    A Response to Mortgages, Mammon and Buy to Let
    The acquisition, ownership and use of wealth and other material goods have presented Christians a serious temptation and a challenge in the light of the teachings of Jesus and the rest of the New Testament. Ideal attitude seems to be that one should own as few material goods as possible needed for basic day to day existence and to depend on God for the future needs. This attitude is reflcetd in Acts 2:42-47 and Acts 4:32—Acts 5: 1.10.
    Such pattern of communal living, however, became gradually modified, primarily for practical reasons, as the number of belivers grew and spread in distant places. Private ownership of wealth and materil goods became acceptable, though subject to the Jesus and NT teachings re morality of how they were acquired and used, espcially sharing of them with those less fortunate than oneself.
    Colin Neill makes an interesting scriptural case against buy to let. But his reasons and arguments can be used against acuqisition and accumulation of material waelth in any form, be in the form bank accounts, share portfolio, land ownership, very expensive jewellry, works of art, even a very expensive residential home. Amassing of material wealth in any form deprives some people of the much needed means for a decent living.
    It is true, as Colin Neill points out, that buy to let deprives the younger genration a chance to own a living space. But this is so much not the fault of the individual citizens but more so of the macro-economic ideology and system in which most of us live. Ordinary Christians who own the second home with a view to let would constitute a small proportion of those who own properties to let. A major part of such properties are nowadays owned by public sector or private sector organizations.
    As Christians we would set a better example if we let our second home at much less than, say, current market rent and vigorously campaign against the economic ideology and system which encourage untrammeled greed and, for a fair distribution of material goods. Sadly most Christians in the capitalist economies have tacitly surrendered to the prevailing mind-set which says that there is nothing wrong in attempting to acquire, consume and accumulate material wealth provided we abide by not only the prevailing laws but also the prevailing societal and business ethos. In doing so, we have miserably failed to be the light and salt in the world.
    Puran Agrawal

  2. Perhaps we could also add into the conversation some discussion of the merits of home ownership – why own rather than rent? Should people be encouraged to take on the very high levels of debt involved in home ownership – particularly when young? Should we encourage more publicly funded housing or incentivise private landlords to provide low cost housing?

  3. Cheryl Meban says:

    I’ve been pondering these things a lot lately. Something to do with attitude – with genuine, heart-searching, to ask ourselves upon whom or what do we rely for our security and happiness. Something to do with taking Jesus seriously, when he indicates that what we do for the least of these, we do for him… and therefore, what we withhold from him when we shore up our personal assets instead of sharing them. But of course, some are richer than others, and can, as drew indicates, use their wealth to provide affordable and decent and secure homes for people who might not otherwise have access. Talking of which, a former student of mine is pregnant and looking for housing in Portrush… Anyone? c.meban@ulster.ac.uk 07736351229 Tx 🙂

  4. George Nixon says:

    I think that this is a very one sided article implying, as it does, that ‘buy to let’ is systemic sin. There are a number of questions which need to be asked:
    1. Is it right for someone to use their capital to provide goods and services and derive a return on their capital in the process? I would argue that it is right and biblical
    2. Based on 1) a subsidiary question relates to what represents a fair return on capital. It seems to me that the Christian response is not simply to be driven by the ‘market’ which in times of scarcity may produce returns which are out of proportion to the amount of capital employed and the risk involved. We are clearly warned about greed in the scripture.
    3. How should landlords behave towards tenants? Clearly the biblical response is based on each of us being made in God’s image and therefore worthy of respect – clean property, repairs made quickly, property kept up to date with electrical and gas safety, etc.
    4. How should tenants behave towards landlords? Again a response based on each of us being made in the image of God. Therefore respecting the property and the provisions of the tenancy, leaving it in good order and prioritising the payment y of rent above discretionary expenditure.

    I was very disappointed in this post and it’s assumption that landlords are involved in systemic sin. The above questions are far from a complete consideration of the issues but I hope they help open a deeper and more considered view of the issues.
    George Nixon

  5. Drew Gibson says:

    Colin,
    You seem to be assuming that all ‘buy to let’ landlords are the same, money hungry and rapacious. Is it not possible that some deliberately rent at below the market prices in order to ensure that their properties are affordable and that young people can afford to save? Do some not carry out repairs quickly and well? There is certainly an argument for using one’s wealth to provide social housing is a very reasonable option. Good landlords do exist.

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