Here’s a Viewpoint article by Mary Hatch that appeared in the October 4, 2023, issue of the Mecklenburg Sun titled “Churches lead on housing“.
Counties across America are dragging their feet on allowing truly affordable housing by restrictive zoning laws that seem to cater to the bigger homes and builders. In the meantime, according to Bloomberg.com, more than 8 million Americans are late on their rent and there are 3.6 million evictions every year. The average rent in America for 897 square ft. is $1,702, and a person would need to make $5,673 per month or $67,710 per yearto keep rent at 30% of income. Almost 50% of Americans don’t make that. It isn’t any wonder that there were582,000 homeless in 2022. Needless to say, we have an acute housing crisis, especially when companies like Microsoft and Amazon move to a county; there is a massive displacement of tenants because rents are tripled.
I was relieved when I heard that Gov. Youngkin is releasing $52 million for affordable housing. But when I went to the website that showed the counties and cities that were eligible for the funds, they were not for the most part counties south of Richmond, except for Roanoke and Danville and a few others. Funds were definitely going to Northern Virginia, Richmond, Williamsburg, Newport News and everywhere but Mecklenburg and the9th Senate District which has seven counties including Mecklenburg and the City of Danville. Mecklenburg is part of the ninth.
The 9th District senator is Frank Ruff (GOP). Bob Good is the congressman for 5th Congressional District (GOP). Tommy Wright is the delegate for House District 50 (GOP), and of course Youngkin is also a member of the GOP. So, the question is why didn’t they petition for the funds going to rural counties that truly need them?
Have we become the forgotten middle child? I guess the churches throughout America have come to the same conclusion — zoning laws, government funding and counties are leaving out the “middle.” So, I researched what entities were actually working around these problems and what I found is that churches throughout America are forming coalitions to raise money and fight city hall. These church coalitions are using their own land, money and vacant buildings to improve housing opportunities, and are acquiring funds from bond drives, Low Income Tax Credits, fund raising, grants, and numerous faith-based organizations.
The city of Charlotte, N.C. is one of the leading cities on a mission to build more affordable housing. Churches in Charlotte are donating vacant buildings, money and land. Their goal is apartments for residents making 30percent to 50 percent of household medium income — $17,000 to $35,000 per year. Several churches have teamed up together: Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Zion, and also the Catholic Diocese of Charlotte. St. Paul Baptist Church donated land for the Centra Square apartments. Covenant Presbyterian Church donated $2million for construction for the Mezzanine at Freedom apartments. Catholic Diocese of Charlotte contributed to the construction of the Mother Teresa Villa apartments for people with disabilities along with the Guardian Angel Villa apartments for low-income seniors. The Presbyterian Church, Antioch Missionary Baptist Church and Grier Heights Presbyterian loaned $1 million to the Charlotte Mecklenburg Housing coalition to purchase land.
In Raleigh, N.C., five congregations came together to start the Rich Inter Church Housing (RICH) in 1968 using Federal Housing and Urban Development Programs to build 100 apartment units. In 2014, they formed the CCLIHC Community Church low Income Housing coalition to build more homes. The Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina is on fire with their blueprint and protocol for collaborations and partnering with other organizations, local government, faith-based organizations, and non-profits. They receive funding from federal, state and local governments, private foundations and by partnering with other churches. They also purchase and rehabilitate vacant buildings and work with Habitat for Humanity. Some families even invest in their sweat equity and pay no mortgage or 0% interest on mortgages. They advocate for zoning policies to support affordable housing and to stop red-lining laws. For a detailed plan, you can go to their website: www.EPISDIONC.ORG and you can contact them at: email@example.com.
All across the nation, churches of all denominations are on a crusade: in Charlotte, Raleigh, and Greensville, N.C., Seattle, Denton, Tex., Arlington, Minnesota, California, Oregon, and Maine. The Catholic Church has built over 35,000 housing units and spends 1.6 billion every year. Their mantra is 7 million units could solve the nation’s housing crisis. All of these churches are putting pressure on Congress and local governments to start loosening restrictions on zoning laws and to allow for more affordable housing.
On a promising note, President Biden signed into law the Faith Based Initiative on Feb. 14, 2021 which reinstates George W. Bush’s faith based initiatives. This will allow faith based organizations to be able use funds for housing from the government such as USDA Rural Affordable Housing loan and HUD loans. And apparently, USDA Rural and HUD allow housing to be set up into Community Land Trusts which prevents investors from purchasing and flipping the properties causing higher rents. USDA rural multi-housing division is also allowing for co-ops which is a way for tenants to actually own a share in the building and a way to acquire equity. I am currently looking into these programs and will write about them later.
It appears between the churches on a nation-wide crusade and USDA rural and HUD’s new programs, there is hope for the “forgotten middle child.” And we need to support candidates that are actually promoting affordable housing. I don’t know very many that do because it is the “A” word in local politics. However, there is a candidate running in the 9th Senate District, Trudy Berry, who has affordable housing on her platform. She is running as a write-in because of a clerical error to get on ballot that was not corrected. We must hold all of our local, state, and federal politicians accountable for all monies that are allotted for these crucial issues and not let them off the hook. Supporting affordable housing will help millions of Americans who are living paycheck to paycheck.