Dealing with the housing crisis in the United States must be a top priority for churches


I know what it’s like to lose your home. As a child, I watched helplessly as my childhood home disappeared due to foreclosure. Predatory lenders and subprime mortgage financial institutions specifically targeted demographic groups like my family: first-generation, low-income Americans. This is one of my saddest memories, which is why today, as an elected member of my hometown council of Campbell, Calif., I made the housing crisis a top priority. .

During the campaign, I heard heartbreaking stories from residents who feared they would soon be excluded from their own community by unaffordable housing costs. Campbell is part of the metropolitan area experiencing the worst housing crisis in all of the United States, but housing is quickly becoming a national crisis.

Clearly the current state of affairs is untenable, which is why I believe churches have a responsibility to help house our neighbors.

Across the country, many Catholic churches own plots of land and, whether large or small, this property can be used to build housing for the community. With attendance declining in some congregations and fluctuating in others due to the impacts of the pandemic, many churches also find themselves with underutilized structures on their property.

The potential of churches in communities across the country to help tackle the housing crisis is enormous. A 2020 report from the Terner Center at the University of California at Berkeley found that in California alone, nearly 40,000 acres of church property could be developed with housing. (The total impact could be even larger than the report’s estimates, since the authors did not count smaller plots of land where individual or smaller housing units could be built.)

The authors of the study concluded that, in particular, properties close to public transport could offer the possibility “of building housing that meets the dual purpose of the state of expanding access to opportunities and reducing greenhouse gas emissions… through better land use ”.

But while the report focuses on the public policy benefits of housing construction, this work is also deeply aligned with the mission of the church. Already, many congregations give back to their communities, practicing hospitality through donation campaigns for homeless people or by organizing pantries. As we are all created in the image of God; taking care of our neighbors like ourselves is a fundamental duty for all Christians. The housing supply is a natural extension of this work.

There are also strong arguments to be made for housing construction, based on the theology of ecology. Last year I woke up to the yellow skies of the forest fires raging through my condition – a devastation that looked like something out of the Apocalypse, but was brought on by man’s failure to take care of our environment.

When we refuse to build infill housing in urban and suburban areas, it happens in rural areas most vulnerable to forest fires. Yet churches, often located at the center of a community, are positioned to build housing that alleviates these pressures by harnessing existing infrastructure rather than contributing to sprawl. To do so would be to follow the example of Saint Francis of Assisi, patron of ecology, whose words Pope Francis quoted in “Laudato Si ‘, on Taking Care of Our Common Home. “

Despite the need for more housing, there are passionate and fair debates in housing policy about the impact of gentrification on communities. Others advocate social housing, managed by the government, as a solution to the problem. While these political nuances are important, there is ultimately no one-size-fits-all solution to our housing crisis, and churches have the power to alleviate this painful reality.

It is accommodation not only as hospitality but as ministry – shaping the kingdom of God on earth, rooted not in the philosophy of money changers but in the theology of love of neighbor and of love. community.

Logistically, there are a number of different models for building housing on church grounds. Some may choose to build shelters or affordable housing, targeting particularly vulnerable populations. Other churches may choose to use income from the rental of housing units as a reliable and stable source of income to stabilize parish finances.

Although most congregations lack experience in areas such as construction or property management, churches can partner with existing organizations in the community, such as developers (for-profit and not-for-profit) and direct service organizations.

Local governments, which would be involved in the allocation of housing rights, can also help to establish these links. In areas such as Pasadena, California, experienced community groups like Making Housing & Community Happen are being set up to help churches navigate the process and bring relevant stakeholder groups to the table, along with many others. resources available online. Examples of successful housing projects by churches can be found across the country.

As Christians, we are called to live our values ​​- to “be actors of the Word, and not just listeners” (James 1:22). The truth about our housing crisis is that it is man-made, rooted in decades of mismanagement of policies. Yet the solutions are only available to religious leaders and congregations.

By building housing for communities, our churches can do their part and in so doing offer an alternative vision for society – that of the word of God enacted here on Earth.

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