Bringing Affordable Housing Home

Affordable housing isn’t someone else’s burden.

Cottage village
Tiny houses going up in Cottage Village–a project in partnership with First, Cottage Grove

This past week I attended the Affordable Housing Fair in North Portland sponsored by Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon and the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability (BPS) with the City of Portland. The event highlighted three faith community sites in Portland chosen by BPS to receive grants and consulting services in order to forward affordable housing development on those sites. One of the things that emerged from this event was a clear message given to the faith community: If churches can partner with each other to create forty units of affordable housing between them, it suddenly becomes cost effective.

 

Lakeside bunks
Bunks in Lakeside Community Church Emergency Warming Shelter

I was pleased that four of our Portland churches attended the fair, asked questions and explored the possibility of making affordable housing a church mission. Affordable housing and homelessness is clearly becoming the number one community concern among our churches and our communities. As I reported after traveling to the vast majority of our churches in my first year, affordable housing is a presbytery-wide concern. It is affecting urban areas, rural areas, coastal regions, and the suburbs. No area of Oregon is untouched by this issue.

 

But lest you think housing issues only affect those “less fortunate” I want to bring this home for you.

We are quickly facing a dilemma where more and more of our ordained clergy either face housing issues themselves or are dependent on the income of a spouse in order to live in the community in which they serve. Increasingly, single, divorced and widowed clergy are finding themselves flirting with the edges of the affordable housing crisis.

Florence trailers
Transitional Housing on the property of Church of the Siuslaw, Florence

I think it is important for you to hear how the affordable housing crisis has personally touched me. In 2006 I was divorced.  For a period after the divorce I was a single father raising a teenage daughter. I was also serving in a church where I was being paid the full time minimum salary set by the presbytery. In Portland, that salary qualified me for low-income housing and from 2008-2012 I was fortunate to be able to live in a federally subsidized apartment complex while I served in pastoral ministry.

 

After 2012, my ministry led me to the more tenuous, feast-and-famine, interim work. During that five-year period I was on food stamps for a short period, house sat for a year in order to build my savings and bought a camper so that I would always have a back-up plan during periods of unemployment.

I want to be clear that this is not a complaint. It is just my reality.

St. Luke's Huts
Women’s Transitional Housing Huts on the property of St. Luke’s Episcopal in Waldport

Speaking of realities. Less than half of our congregations now have full time installed pastors. That means that over half of our churches either have no pastor, have temporary pastors or have pastors who are employed less than full time. We keep thinking that a full time installed pastor is the norm. The fact is, it is no longer the norm. It is increasingly becoming more of a luxury.

 

I am convinced that addressing the affordable housing crisis is going to be the mission that defines our presbytery for years to come. We have property. We have resources. We have a Matthew 25 obligation to minister to “the least of these.” We even have ministers who are impacted by the affordable housing crisis.

If your church is looking for a way to respond to the affordable housing crisis please contact me. The momentum is growing in our presbytery and I can help you connect with others who have taken the plunge. I am ready to help us organize around this important issue.

Thank you for tackling the affordable housing crisis.

Affordable housing is not someone else’s burden.

It’s BEEN my burden.

It IS our burden.

By Rev. Brian Heron, Presbyter for Vision and Mission, Presbytery of the Cascades

6 thoughts on “Bringing Affordable Housing Home

  1. Thank you for being vulnerable and sharing your story. A reminder that we don’t know what someone’s situation is and that we all need to have compassion for those around us, we don’t know what is happening in someone’s life.

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  2. Ditto to Deanna. Thanks for sharing with courage and freedom to tell your own story. That does bring it home! I agree that this is a defining issue. Here in Redmond, we are re-building a partnership with a re-organized Habitat Chapter whose focus is on cottages and townhomes, trying to produce more total units more quickly to meet the demand. I am also involved at the City Hall level, which every pastor would have access to speak to as we can tell the stories of the people in our churches in need, or we can stand with them as they tell their own stories.

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  3. Thank you Brian for stating the realities!! For pastors that live in manses, that housing crunch comes between pastorates (if there is no immediate beginning to a new call) or at the time of retirement (when you’ve no equity and suddenly must provide your own housing). For families such as ours (like you!) that has meant house sitting, living in RVs, renting from relatives at much less than market value, or exhausting savings (or borrowing) to keep a roof over our heads. It is more difficult for our clergy that have disabled dependents as they retire … even retirement villages often won’t allow a younger person to share those ‘over 55’ quarters. We were lucky that Bekah’s back SSD payment, our retirement, and the availability of foreclosed property coincided to allow us to purchase a home for our retirement living … even before that, we were living in an elderly parishioner’s home at less than market rent (after she entered a nursing home, and her children didn’t know what to do with the house). Housing is HUGE need. And, developers that get Housing Authority loans to develop low-income housing only have to keep it low-income for 10 years … then people get evicted for better paying clients. Grrrrrrr

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  4. Brian – You have offered a lot of housing tangents in a small amount of space.

    As to affordable housing, our first house in 1972 was in Sacramento. It was a basic 3-bedroom, 1 bath, 1,200 sq ft house. These were stick built homes, probable successors to Sears/Roebuck catalog assembly kits. The driveway abutted the neighbors; we had tandem two car garages. The lots were manageable for landscaping, but not large. The houses had been built following WW II to be affordable for returning GIs. This approach might work in some areas of the State where there is still land available at moderate costs that could be developed with houses targeting function. Perhaps it would take non-profits to drive this dynamic or joint venture; a place Presbyteries and Synods might plug in. In more densely populated areas, a similar approach might be taken for the construction of condominiums. Also, more probable for rural areas, would be the idea of well designed and managed RV parks. Finally, I would add to look into what St. Vincent de Paul is doing in the way of housing.

    Thanks again for keeping the information flowing.

    En paz

    Bill

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  5. Affordable housing is one of the many reasons that I am now in Glidden, Iowa as the new pastor at First Presbyterian Church. I served as bridge pastor at Kenilworth and worked part-time at Fred Meyers. Thanks to a generous sister and brother-in-law I was able to stay with them while I searched for a full-time position in ministry. I have found that it is not only affordable housing, but any kind of housing that is an issue here in Iowa. Working at Fred Meyers, I talked to many employees who worked full-time, but needed roommates to afford a semi-decent apartment. More than a few of them were depressed about the cost of living in the Portland Metro Area.

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  6. Anna,
    Thank you for your comment. I think it is really important that we bring this issue of affordable housing “home” for our members. It is an issue that is creeping its way even into our ranks as ministers, as you well know.
    Blessings in your new ministry!

    Brian

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