Why NSW is skewing its tax system toward build-to-rent apartments and away from mum and pop landlords


Harry Scheule, University of Technology Sydney

In an apparent about face, the NSW government has halved land tax for developers of build-to-rent housing.

It came weeks after the the Treasurer Dominic Perrottet launched a report that called for a greater reliance on land tax as a replacement for stamp duty.

The greater reliance on land tax is a long-term goal. At the moment family homes are exempt, along with boarding houses, caravan parks, retirement villages and farms. Most other users pay land tax, including landlords and businesses.

The change will give developers who invest in build-to-rent schemes offering long tenancies a 50% discount on their land tax for 20 years.

Why build-to-rent?

Most Australian rental properties are owned by individuals, units in apartment blocks as well as free-standing houses. Half are owned by landlords with only one property; three quarters by landlords with only one or two properties.

If you want to rent from a corporation, or from someone with wide experience in owning and renting properties, you’ll find it hard.

It makes Australia unusual.

Nails in walls can cause problems for tenants.

In other countries corporations rent out housing, big time. America’s five largest corporate landlords own 420,000 properties. Germany’s largest landlord, Vonovia, owns more than 330,000.

Overseas experience suggests corporations provide more affordable housing, and in many ways they make better landlords.

Individuals who own just one property have put most of their eggs in one basket.

Because they can’t afford for anything to go wrong they check the condition of the property regularly.

They prohibit nails in walls and pets, and typically offer only short-term leases.

Corporations can play the law of averages.

Because they know most properties will be well maintained they are satisfied with less-frequent inspections. They allow modifications, and typically offer long-term leases.

They offer an experience pretty close to ownership, in return for rent.

It’s this that the NSW government wants to encourage.

To ensure it happens and to ensure built-to-rents don’t revert to the Australian pattern of individual investors owning individual units, it will specify that the apartments have at least 50 units and are managed under unified ownership.

Tax makes it hard

At the moment such developments are discriminated against when it comes to land tax. No tax is due if the land value is below a threshold.

Individual landlords are usually below the threshold (some spreading their portfolio between multiple states to ensure they don’t trigger each state’s threshold).

Wholly-owned apartment blocks are above the threshold and can’t escape it. University of Technology Sydney calculations suggest land tax on build-to-rent developments can consume up to 27% of the annual rent collected.




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‘Build to rent’ could be the missing piece of the affordable housing puzzle


And they are subject to goods and services tax. They can reclaim some of it but not all.

The announcement comes at a time when the COVID crisis has cut stamp duty receipts and created an oversupply of vacant apartments, particularly around universities.

The initiative appears to have been crafted before the crisis and to be more forward looking. Many of the build-to-rent projects will take years to complete.

It’s about changing the mix

That said, any extra building activity will support the construction industry and extra stock will reduce home prices and rents.

The initiative doesn’t spell the end of mum and dad landlords. They will still predominate for a long time.

It’s about providing options and security for tenants that isn’t widely available and will become more important as a greater proportion of Australians rent.

Other states will be taking note.




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For a government that wants to eventually make land tax universal, the 50% cut is a step in the wrong direction. It might have been better to remove the threshold for small landlords.

But there’s no sign the NSW government has given up on its longer term goal. It’s unlikely to be the last time land tax rules are changed.The Conversation

Harry Scheule, Professor, Finance, UTS Business School, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

As coronavirus widens the renter-owner divide, housing policies will have to change


Rachel Ong ViforJ, Curtin University

What began as a global health crisis in the form of COVID-19 is now also an economic crisis of historic proportions. Much of the housing policy focus during the pandemic has rightly centred on the plight of people who are insecurely housed or homeless. Another strand of commentary has focused on a likely fall in property values.

But what does the pandemic mean for housing market inequalities in Australia? And what are the policy implications?




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The renter-owner gap will widen

Despite concerns about house prices plummeting, the spread of COVID-19 is exposing a widening gap in housing markets between those who own zero housing wealth (renters) and those with substantial housing wealth (owners).

Australians with little to no housing wealth were already experiencing at least three key types of vulnerabilities before the pandemic in the form of work insecurity, financial stress and ill-health.

The charts below show the comparisons between renters and home owners in these three categories of vulnerability, using data from the HILDA Survey. Owners are ranked in quintiles by housing equity, from the bottom 20% (Q1) to the top 20% (Q5).

Renters were much more likely to be unemployed or in casual jobs than people with high housing wealth.

Note: Sample includes all persons aged 25+ no longer living in their parents’ homes. Housing equity is defined as family home value minus mortgage debt. Population weights have been applied.
Author’s calculations from 2017 Household, Income and Labour Dynamics Survey data, Author provided

Both renters and owners with low housing equity were more likely to have difficulty paying their rent, mortgage and utility bills on time. They were less likely to be able to raise emergency funds when needed.

Note: Sample includes all persons aged 25+ who are no longer living in their parents’ homes. Housing equity is defined as family home value minus mortgage debt. Population weights have been applied.
Author’s calculations from 2017 Household, Income and Labour Dynamics Survey data, Author provided



Read more:
Rents can and should be reduced or suspended for the coronavirus pandemic


Renters were also more likely to report poorer physical and mental health.

Note: Sample includes all persons aged 25+ who are no longer living in their parents’ homes. Housing equity is defined as family home value minus mortgage debt. Population weights have been applied.
Author’s calculations from 2017 Household, Income and Labour Dynamics Survey data, Author provided

The spread of coronavirus has added to these existing vulnerabilities. Casual workers have been particularly vulnerable to job loss.




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Coronavirus puts casual workers at risk of homelessness unless they get more support


The social gradient in health is well-known. People on the bottom rungs of the socioeconomic ladder tend to be in poorer health. They are then more likely to develop serious health problems from the coronavirus.

Post-pandemic markets will add to inequalities

COVID-19 is making existing economic inequalities worse. And even in a post-pandemic world it can be expected to slow down wealth accumulation among renters.

Hysteresis is a term used to describe an economic event that persists into the future, after the factors that led to the event have disappeared. In labour markets, the long-term unemployed also suffer long-term damage to their job prospects as their skills deteriorate and they are regarded as less employable.

This hysteresis effect will likely spill over into housing markets. Any crisis-driven falls in house prices may be short-term as housing values remain relatively insulated by record low interest rates. People who are exposed to job loss, insecure work or ill-health during the crisis will face a greater struggle to regain their economic footing after the pandemic than those from more affluent backgrounds.

This means the wealth-accumulating capacity of people with little to no housing equity is further compromised during and after the pandemic. In short, renters could fall further behind in their ability to buy a home. The gap between the haves and have-nots will grow.




Read more:
Fall in ageing Australians’ home-ownership rates looms as seismic shock for housing policy


3 principles for post-pandemic policy

An even more unequal housing future for Australia is undesirable. The post-crisis housing debate will need to be conducted with three key elements in mind: equity, solidarity and security.

Equity in access to housing opportunities must not slide off policymakers’ radar. It is not a debatable fact that governments have long provided generous concessions for property buyers. These measures include capital gains tax discounts, family home exemptions from land tax and income support means tests, and negative gearing for investors.

These preferential tax treatments have far exceeded government spending on renters. Notwithstanding the benefits commonly associated with home ownership, restoring some balance in the distribution of subsidies between owners and renters is essential to narrow the widening chasm between them.

Solidarity between generations will be more crucial than ever before to preserve Australia’s social and economic fabric. The surge in national debt created in response to the crisis will likely be a multi-generational burden.




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Some might be tempted to return to pitting the young against the old in housing debates. Policy thinking that encourages solidarity, rather than stoking tensions between generations, will be increasingly important. For instance, abolishing stamp duty together with levying land tax on all land will remove a key financial barrier to home purchases for both young first-time buyers and older downsizers.

The formation of the national cabinet to oversee the response to COVID-19 also provides a post-pandemic forum to forge federal-state cooperation on the required reforms. Federal support will be needed to help cover state revenue shortfalls in a gradual transition to land tax. On the other hand, the release of housing equity by older downsizers should ease pressures on the federal retirement incomes system.

Finally, it is time to reprioritise housing security as a foundation for fostering good health and economic participation. Critical public health measures to avoid the spread of disease, such as social distancing and staying at home, are inherently shelter-related. These measures are rarely achievable for people who are homeless or in overcrowded housing.The Conversation

Rachel Ong ViforJ, Professor of Economics, School of Economics, Finance and Property, Curtin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

4 ways to be a good landlord in a time of coronavirus



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Emma Baker, University of Adelaide and Rebecca Bentley, University of Melbourne

The COVID-19 pandemic is creating major challenges for our residential rental system. The lockdown of businesses has meant an almost overnight loss of jobs or reduced hours for many Australian workers. Many tenants are struggling to pay their rent.

While the release of a government package to help residential renters has been mooted for weeks, the only concrete outcome so far has been a halt on evictions and some progress in individual states and territories. The rapid sequence of events has left renters – that’s about one in three Australian households – and landlords in uncharted territory; they must renegotiate their terms.

We asked stakeholders from across the rental market – landlords, tenants, advocacy groups, housing researchers – for ideas on what ethical landlords might do in these highly uncertain circumstances. We discuss some of these ideas later in this article.




Read more:
Rents can and should be reduced or suspended for the coronavirus pandemic


Landlords are taking a hit too

But, first, it’s important to remember it isn’t just renters who are struggling. Some landlords are too. For many of Australia’s more than 1 million “mum and dad” landlords, COVID-19 has dealt a blow to their relatively safe bricks-and-mortar investment.

On the other hand, landlords may have access to mortgage holidays and low interest rates. Some are also calling for relief on rates and other costs associated with their investment properties so they can better support their tenants.

At the coalface, responses from landlords, letting agents and property managers have reportedly varied widely. The official position of the Real Estate Institute of Australia is that a “a moratorium on evictions during these challenging times is the correct thing to be doing”. However, there have been widespread reports of threatened evictions, suggestions renters draw on super or use savings to pay rent, or that rent reductions will only come in the form of deferred loans.

Pulling together in a crisis

Australians have rallied together in this crisis – checking up on older neighbors, for instance, or delivering groceries or home-baked bread to isolated friends and relatives. This is grassroots stuff, which has largely happened separately from, and in advance of, formal government responses. People see COVID-19 as a shared challenge, and there is a lot of goodwill.

In this environment, while landlords are rightly concerned to protect their investment and keep paying their mortgages, many also have a competing concern to help out their tenants.




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The problem is, in such a dispersed system of ownership, there is no template for how they might help, and no library of what other landlords are doing, so each mum and dad investor is responding in different ways. Anecdotal evidence suggests some letting agents have been contacting landlords for direction on how to respond to requests for rent reductions and gauging attitudes to eviction.

An added complication is that many of the responses that aim to help out tenants may be counter to the best interests of letting agents, who receive a percentage of rental income.

4 ways landlords can help

Here are some ideas in response to our questions of rental stakeholders:

  1. Talk directly with tenants if you can, or at least ask to be included in the conversation.

  2. Everyone will have different pressures. Work out what position you are in. Find out what concessions your bank may be offering, what inflexible costs (such as council rates) you have, what landlord insurance covers you for, and how much of the pain you are prepared to share – and for how long. Ask your tenants to do the same. This will form a good, and hopefully fair, basis on which to compromise.

  3. Use letting agents who reflect your values as a landlord. You may wish to have a chat to your agent and ask that they notify you if tenants are having trouble. Some landlords have gone further and requested that all communication between agent and renter is cleared by them first.

  4. Share success stories. One of the motivations for this article was the lack of information for mum and dad investors who are trying to be good landlords. Options to offer tenants as part of negotiations might include rent reductions, or deferred rent, but there aren’t many examples of what other landlords have done out there.

It would be helpful if landlords shared the solutions they have developed, what worked and what didn’t. Even though every case will be different, having positive case studies available for other landlords to emulate will be valuable.

The full extent of COVID-19 and its effect on employment, housing and the economy just isn’t known. And neither is the full detail of what government assistance may be provided – or the implications for landlords, tenants and agents.




Read more:
Rushed coronavirus tenancy laws raise as many questions as they answer


Impacts are affecting everyone

It’s worth remembering that we’re all in this together. Everyone in the rental system – tenants, landlords and agents – will feel the effects of the pandemic.

Many households have already been tipped into post-COVID unemployment, many landlords will also have lost their jobs, many agents are overwhelmed by trying to keep businesses afloat while quickly mediating temporary solutions. And many want to do the right thing – tenants and landlords alike.

Everyone is waiting to know the shape and impact of any government response. Although it is difficult to adequately plan long-term responses to hardship, individual landlords can do a lot in advance of government help, and in addition to it.The Conversation

Emma Baker, Professor of Housing Research, School of Architecture and Built Environment, University of Adelaide and Rebecca Bentley, Professor of Social Epidemiology, Centre for Health Equity, Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Rushed coronavirus tenancy laws raise as many questions as they answer



Shutterstock

Dilan Thampapillai, Australian National University

The coronavirus and its attendant emergency measures are set to deliver a profound shock to the residential tenancy market.

How it will work out is anybody’s guess, but it is looking like a crisis.

Banks and governments have acted quickly.

The major banks are deferring mortgage payments for up to six months for customers whose income is hit by the coronavirus.

NSW and Tasmania have introduced bills that will make it difficult for landlords to evict tenants or terminate leases during the crisis.

The rushed laws are designed to prevent a raft of evictions and a spike in homelessness, but they raise almost as many questions as they answer.

Rent postponed rather than forgiven

Both laws put power in the hands of the minister, giving that person the power to make regulations during the coronavirus pandemic. Tasmania’s more closely prescribes what the minister can do.

And both are temporary. The NSW act has effect for six months and the Tasmanian bill for 120 days, although it can be extended by 90 days.

Neither law excuses tenants from their liability to pay rent. They merely prevent evictions during the emergency period.




Read more:
Why housing evictions must be suspended to defend us against coronavirus


In effect they say that although tenants can stay, their landlords can later sue them for arrears.

While on paper, this suggests landlords will get their money, in practice they might not, and some will be tempted to issue notices of termination ahead of the minister taking action.

The minister’s regulations would most likely be prospective, meaning landlords would seem to be able to get away with it. But whether a tribunal would enforce the notices is another question.

The Tasmanian bill only permits landlords to apply for terminations where the landlord is in hardship. The NSW law has less detail, but would probably do the same.




Read more:
Lessons from the Great Depression: how to prevent evictions in an economic crisis


In any event, most landlords who evicted would want to re-let, and that will prove difficult with inspections prohibited.

Sick tenants are unlikely to be evicted whatever the law. That is in nobody’s interests.

Cooperation in a crisis is desirable, but it is fraught in practice.

The law discourages communication

Representations made by landlords with the best of intentions can become binding under the equitable law of estoppel.

In essence, once landlords make representations they can be estopped (stopped) from going back on those representations.

In an environment where fortunes change quickly, this might become problematic.

Contract law is replete with cases of agreements varied or entered into with the best of intentions that ultimately turn sour.




Read more:
The case for a rent holiday for businesses on the coronavirus economic frontline


Given there are tough and uncertain times ahead, a better approach than rushed laws might be a pragmatic one of exhorting both landlords and tenants to take the legitimate interests of each other into account.

If laws are to be made, there ought to be extensive consultation.

Even in the coronavirus pandemic this is doable and a good idea.The Conversation

Dilan Thampapillai, Senior Lecturer, ANU College of Law, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

China Keeps Church Leaders from Public Worship Attempt


Police put pastors under house arrest over weekend, before detaining at least 160 on Sunday.

DUBLIN, April 11 (CDN) — Police in China held “about two dozen” pastors and elders of Beijing’s Shouwang Church under house arrest or at police stations over the weekend to keep them from attending a Sunday worship service in a public location, according to Bob Fu of the China Aid Association.

Three top leaders of the church remain in jail and several others are under strict surveillance after  hundreds of Chinese police yesterday cordoned off the walkway to a third-floor outdoor meeting area adjacent to a property purchased by the church in Haidian district, Beijing, and arrested at least 160 members of the 1,000-strong church as they tried to assemble.

The church members were bundled into waiting vans and buses to prevent them from meeting as planned in the public space, Reuters and The Associated Press (AP) reported, and most had been released by today.

Church leaders claimed officials had pressured their landlords, forcing them out of both rented and purchased locations and leaving them no choice but to worship in the open.

“The government cornered them into making this decision,” Fu said, adding that the church had initially tried to register with the government. “They waited for two years, and when the government still denied them registration, they tried to keep a low profile before finally deciding to buy the Daheng New Epoch Technology building.”

Shouwang is a very unique church, he said.

“Most members are well-educated, and they include China’s top religious scholars and even former government officials, which may be a factor in the government’s response to them,” he said.

As one of the largest house churches in Beijing, Shouwang is unique in insisting on meeting together rather than splitting the congregation into smaller groups meeting in several locations, Fu said. Zion church, for example, may have more members than Shouwang, but members meet in smaller groups across the city.

“This is based on the founding fathers’ vision for Shouwang Church to be a ‘city on a hill,’” as stated in the Bible in Matthew chapter five, Fu explained. “So they’ve made a conscious decision not to go back to the small-group model. Either the government gives them the keys to their building or gives them written permission to worship in another location, or they will continue meeting in the open.”

Police arrested anyone who showed up to take part in the service, AP reported.

 

‘Most Basic Necessity’

Church leaders last week issued a statement to the congregation explaining their decision to meet outdoors.

“It may not be the best decision, but at this time it is an inevitable one,” the statement said, before reminding church members that the landlord of their premises at the time, the Old Story Club restaurant, had come under government pressure and repeatedly asked them to leave, while the previous owners of the Daheng New Epoch Technology building, purchased a year ago by the church for 27.5 million RMB (US$4.2 million), had refused to hand over the keys. (See, “Church in China to Risk Worshipping in Park,” April 7.)

The church had already met outdoors twice in November 2009 before officials gave tacit consent to move to the Old Story Club restaurant. Officials, however, again prevented Shouwang Church from meeting in May and August of last year.

Fu said it was common for government officials across China to pressure landlords into revoking leases for house church groups.

“For example, right now I know of at least two churches that were made ‘homeless’ in Guangzhou this week, including one church with at least 200 members,” he said.

Shouwang’s statement pointed to Article 36 of China’s Constitution, which grants every citizen freedom to worship, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, ratified by China, which states that every citizen has the right to observe his religion or belief “either alone or in community with others and in public or private.”

For this reason the church planned to meet outdoors until officials granted legal, written permission to worship in an approved location – preferably at the building purchased by the church.

The document also advised church members not to resist if they were held under house arrest or arrested at the Sunday venue.

“Objectively speaking, our outdoor worship must deliver this message to the various departments of our government: attending Sunday worship is the most basic necessity for Christians in their life of faith,” the statement concluded.

The number of Protestant house church Christians in China is estimated at between 45 and 60 million, according to Yu Jianrong, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Rural Development Institute, with a further 18 to 30 million people attending government-approved churches.

Report from Compass Direct News
http://www.compassdirect.org

Church in China to Risk Worshipping in Park


Evicted from one site and denied others, unregistered congregation resorts to open air.

LOS ANGELES, April 7 (CDN) — One of the largest unregistered Protestant churches in Beijing plans to risk arrest by worshipping in the open air this Sunday (April 10) after eviction from the restaurant where they have met for the past year.

The owner of the Old Story Club restaurant issued repeated requests for the Shouwang Church to find another worship venue, and authorities have pressured other prospective landlords to close their facilities to the 1,000-member congregation, sources said. Unwilling to subject themselves to the controls and restrictions of the official Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), the congregation has held three services each Sunday in the restaurant for more than a year.

Church members have said they are not opposed to the government and are not politically active, but they fear authorities could find their open-air worship threatening.

“Normal” (state-sanctioned) religious assembly outdoors is legal in China, and even unregistered church activity is usually tolerated if no more than 50 people gather, especially if the people are related and can cite the gathering as a family get-together, said a source in China who requested anonymity. Although the congregation technically risks arrest as an unregistered church, the primary danger is being viewed as politically active, the source said.

“For a larger group of Christians to meet in any ‘unregistered’ location led by an ‘unregistered’ leader is illegal,” he said. “The sensitivity of meeting in a park is not being illegal, but being so highly visible. Being ‘visible’ ends up giving an impression of being a political ‘protest.’”

The congregation believes China’s Department of Religious Affairs has overstepped its jurisdiction in issuing regulations limiting unregistered church activity, according to a statement church leaders issued this week.

“Out of respect for both the Chinese Constitution [whose Article 36 stipulates freedom of worship] and Christian conscience, we cannot actively endorse and submit to the regulations which bid us to cease all Sunday worship activities outside of [the] ‘Three-Self Patriotic Movement’ – the only state-sanctioned church,” according to the statement. “Of course, we still must follow the teachings of the Bible, which is for everyone to submit to and respect the governing authorities. We are willing to submit to the regulations with passivity and all the while shoulder all the consequences which . . . continuing to worship outside of what is sanctioned by these regulations will bring us.”

The church decided to resort to open-air worship after a prospective landlord backed out of a contractual agreement to allow the congregation to meet at the Xihua Business Hotel, the church said in its statement.

“They had signed another rental contract with another property facility and announced during the March 22 service that they were to move in two weeks,” the source said. “In spite of the fact that they had signed a formal contract, the new landlord suddenly called them on March 22 and refused to let them use the facility.”

The landlord offered various excuses for reneging on the contract, according to church leaders, and that disappointment came after 15 months of trying to obtain the key to another property the church had purchased.

“The space in Daheng New Epoch Technology building, which the church had spent over 27.5 million RMB [US$4.2 million] to purchase, has failed to hand the key over to the church for the past year and three months because of government intervention,” the church said in its statement. “For the past year, our church has not had a settled meeting place.”

Beginning as a house church in 1993, the Shouwang Church has been evicted from several rented locations. It also met outside after its last displacement in 2009. The congregation does not believe its calling is to split up into smaller units.

“For the past several years the church has been given a vision from God to be ‘the city on a hill,’” the source said. “Especially since 2009, when they officially began the church building purchase, they have been trying to become a more officially established status. At this point, they feel that they have not completed the journey in obedience to God.”

The number of Protestant house church Christians is estimated at between 45 and 60 million, according to Yu Jianrong, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Rural Development Institute. Yu and others have concluded that house churches are a positive influence on society, but the government is wary of such influence.

Yu estimated another 18 to 30 million people attend government-approved churches – potentially putting the number of Christians higher than that of Communist Party members, which number around 74 million.

The government-commissioned study by Yu and associates suggested that officials should seek to integrate house churches and no longer regard them as enemies of the state. The study employed a combination of interviews, field surveys and policy reviews to gather information on house churches in several provinces from October 2007 to November 2008.

Yu’s team found that most house or “family” churches fit into one of three broad categories: traditional house churches, open house churches or urban emerging churches. Traditional house churches were generally smaller, family-based churches, meeting in relative secrecy. Though not a Christian himself, Yu attended some of these meetings and noted that the focus was not on democracy or human rights but rather on spiritual life and community.

The “open” house churches were less secretive and had more members, sometimes advertising their services and holding public gatherings, he found. Urban emerging churches functioned openly but independently of TSPM churches. In some provinces such as Wenzhou, these churches had constructed their own buildings and operated without interference from local officials.

While some house churches actively seek registration with authorities to avoid arrests and harassment, they would like the option of registering outside the government-approved TSPM structure, as they disagree with TSPM beliefs and controls. Many unregistered evangelical Protestant groups refuse to register with TSPM due to theological differences, fear of adverse consequences if they reveal names and addresses of church leaders or members or fear that it will control sermon content.

Report from Compass Direct News
http://www.compassdirect.org

Evangelist Arrested in Zanzibar, Tanzania


Elsewhere on island off East Africa, Christians prohibited from worshipping at university.

NAIROBI, Kenya, August 19 (CDN) — Christian university students on the Tanzanian island of Zanzibar, a predominantly Muslim area off the coast of East Africa, have been denied the right to worship, while on another part of the isle a Christian leader has been jailed.

Sources said evangelist Peter Masanja, a resident of Zanzibar’s southeastern town of Paje, was arrested by security agents sometime in early August. Earlier this year Masanja, a member of the Pentecostal Church in Zanzibar, would invite Christians to his house, as he had made part of his land available for church activities. Area Muslims interpreted it as plans to establish another church there, the sources said.

The rumor angered local residents, and they vowed to prohibit any Christian activities, the sources said.

“It was only after her husband failed to return home that Masanja’s wife knew that there was something amiss,” said a source who requested anonymity. “After several days of searching, reports reached the wife that Masanja had been arrested and imprisoned in Kilimani cell.”

Pastors from Tanzania’s Zanzibar Island sought to meet with prison authorities about Masanja’s arrest, but officials informed them that the person in charge of the prison was away on official business, said Bishop Obeid Fabian, chairman of an association of congregations known as the Fraternal Churches.

“We are asking for prayers for him and his family, that he would be released,” Fabian said.

At Zanzibar University, a private school in Tunguu 18 kilometers (12 miles) from Zanzibar Town, Islamic administrators have denied Christian students freedom of worship while retaining that constitutional right for Muslims, said Samson Zuberi, Christian Union students coordinator.

Three Christian Union student leaders have protested to school officials and threatened to go to court over the discrimination, he said. Although freedom of worship among Christians has long been restricted at the university, the decision to ban it completely caused an outcry. The vice-chancellor’s office on Dec. 28, 2009 issued the order forbidding Christian students from conducting their affairs and meetings on the school campus.    

Numbering about 100 at a university with more than 2,500 students, the Christian students say they have felt the administration increasingly discriminating against them. There are two mosques at the university, which is sponsored by an Islamic charity, Dar el Uman Charitable Association, registered in Geneva, Switzerland, according to the school’s Web site.

In an April 12 circular, university Dean of Students Mavua H. Mussa warned those defying worship regulations to seek other learning institutions, saying that the ban on religious activities in lecture theaters, halls of residence or anywhere else on campus was absolute.

Students said the ban violates sections 19(1) and 20(1) of the Zanzibar Constitution of 1984, which provide for freedom of association, including religious groups, free of government control. Articles 19(1) (2) and 20(1) of the Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania of 1977 provide for the same freedom, they said.

Fabian told Compass by telephone that the students will seek counsel from Christian students at universities in Dar es Salaam and Dodoma, Tanzania.

“We have advised that before they take the case to court, the three Christian Union leaders should travel to get counsel from their fellow students at the universities of Dar es Salaam and Dodoma, especially the Christian law students, to get the correct interpretation of the Tanzanian constitution on the right of worship,” Fabian said.

He added that the students – Zuberi, regional Christian Union Student Chairman Ronald R. Urassa and Christian Union Student Secretary Neema Alex Langalli – need to raise US$800 each for the travel.

Similarly, the dress code at the university has caused tensions, sources said, as officials have threatened to expel female Christian students if they do not wear a veil and headscarf, or the Buibui and Hijab. University regulations state that, “For a female dressing, the clothes must cover from head to an ankle.”

Some of the lecturers have put female Christian students out of class if they do not wear the required Islamic dress, sources said.

They also noted that during the current Islamic month of Ramadan, a period of fasting by day, life for Christian students becomes difficult as university regulations forbid them to cook for themselves, and all cafeterias on or near university campuses are closed. The location of the school makes it difficult for Christian students to find meals outside the university cafeteria.

Even if they remain off campus, the conditions and practices of landlords discriminate against Christians, the sources said.

In predominately Sunni Muslim Zanzibar, churches face numerous challenges. There are restrictions on getting land to build churches, open preaching is outlawed and there is limited time on national television to air Christian programs. In government schools, only Islamic Religious knowledge is taught, not Christian Religious Education.

Zanzibar is the informal designation for the island of Unguja in the Indian Ocean. The Zanzibar archipelago united with Tanganyika to form the present day Tanzania in 1964.

Muslim traders from the Persian Gulf had settled in the region early in the 10th century after monsoon winds propelled them through the Gulf of Aden and Somalia. The 1964 merger left island Muslims uneasy about Christianity, seeing it as a means by which mainland Tanzania might dominate them, and tensions have persisted.

Report from Compass Direct News

HUNDREDS OF MUSLIMS ATTACK CHRISTIAN SHOPS IN EGYPT


Hundreds of Muslims have attacked Christian shops and a police station in the Egyptian city of Alexandria on Sunday, April 5, 2009, following rumors that a Muslim man was stabbed and killed by his Christian landlords, reports Dan Wooding, founder of ASSIST Ministries.

According to a story written by Jenna Lyle and posted on the UK website, www.christiantoday.com, the trouble started when many Muslims gathered at a mosque for funeral prayers for the dead man, Abdel Razeq Gomaa. They then started to chant “They’ll die, they’ll die.”

“Three Christian brothers, Ayman, Atef and Farag Tagy were accused of murdering the man,” wrote Lyle.

“According to security forces, Gomaa was the only Muslim tenant in a building owned by the three men, and was injured in an earlier fight with the brothers. It has been reported that the three brothers have been detained in connection with Gomaa’s death.

She added, “Around 10 per cent of Egypt’s population are Coptic Christians and while relations with the Muslim majority are usually quiet, they can sometimes explode in disputes over land, religious buildings, women or small acts of violence.

“In 2006, a Muslim killed a Christian, which led to three days of Christian-Muslim violence in Alexandria.”

Report from the Christian Telegraph