How should we Christians think about affordable housing? What started this discussion of affordable housing was a situation in my community in which a boardinghouse providing affordable housing for 14 people might be shut down due to zoning law. You can review the story here. What could it look like to apply Amos 5:11-12 to that story, and the many others like it, such that people are not deprived of justice in the courts. One way to apply justice and mercy would be that our local zoning board could have given a variance to the boardinghouse, thus helping 14 low-income people maintain stable housing. Another way is that during the appeals process, our courts could have over-ruled the zoning board. I certainly understand the idea of upholding precedents and trying to avoid exceptions to the rule. If you start granting exceptions, then everyone wants an exception, but society must have standards and consistency. There is no doubt that the issues around affordable housing are complex.
But when we think of justice and mercy, and especially when we think of developing God’s heart for justice and mercy, what have we seen in Micah and Amos? We have seen that God has a heart to bring justice and mercy to the poor and oppressed.
This is perhaps why we need people who have a heart for mercy and justice for the poor and oppressed to serve on these kinds of local government boards. Does your school board have openings? How about the local zoning board, sewer authority or other local governance boards? Will you consider being a part of a local board, seeking to bring God’s mercy and justice to the many decisions those kinds of boards face?
Another practical application is to support local orgs who strive to bring justice and mercy to your community. This is why my congregation supports our local Homes of Hope. Perhaps there is a similar ministry near you. Homes of Hope is a transitional housing ministry that brings justice and mercy to those facing homelessness. Evicted people who have an income source can stay in the Home of Hope for a very affordable program fee. While staying in the home for 3-6 months, they are required to meet with mentors and budget coaches, helping them break the cycle of poor financial decisions, pay off debt, boost credit, and make new habits, thus laying the groundwork for them to not only enter stable housing, but also thrive in it.
Of course some people don’t want to submit to that kind of accountability or make changes. I recently heard of a local resident living in nearby Section 8 housing. As ten years went by they allowed the home and property to deteriorate. Kind, loving neighbors reached out to them, but they didn’t want to change their ways. Sadly, rather than receive help, they committed welfare fraud, were caught and forced to move. They were capable of change, but they wouldn’t do the hard work to amend their ways. We certainly can’t force people to change. But there are many who long for a combination of mercy and justice, many who would do the hard work to change their lives.
So how can we support families in crisis? Our school district could use many more homes of hope, as well as people like us willing to love people through the sometimes messy, nitty-gritty of their lives.
Consider a single mom who needs people to give 30 minutes each morning to sit with her kids until they get on bus, thus freeing up the mom to get to work on time. One person in my congregation said that a former employer allowed her to bring her girls to work, and then her boss’ daughter babysat her kids for free! She said she would not have been able to maintain her housing otherwise. Can you support people like this, helping them avoid the risk of eviction and homelessness?
Communities need more affordable housing. I’ve dreamed of building a tiny house community on our church’s back lot, like this church did. Or what if our local townships created ordinances whereby developers are required to allot a certain percentage of new homes as low-income? New condos went in last year across the street from our church starting at $1395/month, a rent that has become the norm in our area. Some of you might think that is exceptionally low. Others might think it high. In Lancaster County, that rent is simply not considered affordable housing. What could help many people is for laws to change, requiring affordable housing. How can we see that kind of change take place? We could advocate on behalf of low-income people. We could bring these concerns to our local townships.
Our local school district, every year, has about 100 kids that are considered homeless. And while it is wonderful that we have mercy ministries like our local food and clothing ministry, we also need to have hearts that beat for justice. What would it look like for you and I to bring justice to our locales, in the need for affordable housing?
I don’t know why the zoning board decided to make an issue of the boardinghouse. Perhaps they had good reason. They were certainly within their legal rights. But I wonder what God thinks about that. There are 14 people who might be homeless. Reading Amos and Micah, it sure seems his heart is concerned about the poor and oppressed.