The "endless decline" of impoverished parts of the country could be halted and reversed by the building of a "great coalition" between the Church of England and housing associations, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said.
The Most Rev Justin Welby said housing associations were the "envy of most of the voluntary sector" and praised how they had "quietly" taken on the strain for many community based services as the Government has "withdrawn" from many areas as a result of austerity measures.
In a rallying call arguing for greater co-operation across the sector, he said housing associations had successfully created "strong and supportive communities" and shared many goals with the church to build up "resilience" among the people living in those areas.
Mr Welby said building "great partnerships and coalitions" was the only answer to helping the most deprived in the wake of the severe economic downturn, and said it could take "a generation" of hard work for the real results to be known.
He added that, unlike the church and many other third sector agencies, housing associations had proven far more able to "develop and change quicker than anyone else", describing it as a key strength with the country still going through "huge changes".
However, sounding a warning note, he said: "The changes are so huge, I want to suggest that no single sector can face them.
"To quote Benjamin Franklin, if we do not hang together we will most assuredly hang separately."
In a speech at the National Housing Federation's annual conference in Birmingham, Mr Welby said there were many shared interests and goals between the housing associations and the church.
He highlighted the church's work with food banks and in helping provide debt and financial advice for people in deprived areas.
But he also did not rule out the possibility that church funding could also be used to help in particular areas, such as supporting housing for the elderly.
The Archbishop told delegates that church groups also "had volunteers of the kind of people you need and of the motivation you require".
Setting the context of his call for closer working, however, he added housing associations, despite their flexibility, were facing enormous changes, not least from the shake-up in benefits and its effect on the housing associations' tenants.
"The benefits system is going through a massive change, especially as it will affect housing," said Mr Welby.
"We all know the introduction of Universal Credit, paid direct, is a massive change in the risk profile of housing associations.
"The principle of the changes have been carefully thought through over much time and I am not making a party political point.
"But the realities of delivery are hugely challenging, and again that's not a criticism.
"All of you know better than I do the difficulties of delivering services in complex and large organisations which are yet, for all their size, still many times smaller than government.
"When a series of other things are combined, notably reductions in benefit to take account of what is seen as excess house space - the so-called bedroom tax - higher costs for energy, and for many the fact that with CPAs (continuous payment authorities) short-term lenders can take money direct from an account within hours of it coming in, suddenly the problem and possibility of growing a large-scale arrears becomes very serious.
"A sense, more seriously, of instability for people in already tough places becomes more and more real."
He said it represented "a change of climate" for housing associations who were facing "rapid adaption", adding "extinction is the alternative".
The Archbishop said he knew there was "some anxiety" within housing associations to closer working with religious groups but assured delegates it would be "a great way forward".
He said any partnership could challenge the "ridiculous belief" in some quarters that there were some deprived areas which were simply beyond saving, and were instead in "managed decline".
"We can say it is possible to reinvent regeneration," he said.
"But it is going to be very difficult, however, it can be done."
Mr Welby added: "Everything starts locally but we need to have a great vision and there are no easy answers.
"I do know that we have the space and the challenge because Government, through necessity or choice, has withdrawn or is forced to withdraw from some of the areas they have been, to renew the passion for community regeneration. To challenge the determinism that says communities are just in endless decline.
"To renew community resilience, that should be our response to poverty in need, and has been that of the churches at their best.
"We have the means to challenge that path."
He added: "It is a gigantic task of a generation at least.
"But within our ranks is the capacity if we work together, work locally and build great partnerships and coalitions - not just the housing associations and churches but reaching out with a clear view of changing the environment and context in which we live.
"Taking responsibility and leading with vision.
"It needs more than just a few of us."
He concluded by saying that using the existing links both sets of organisations already had within communities would give people living in those areas "reason for hope".