I love this congregation. I LOVE being a priest among you. I am so proud, so grateful, so honored to be your priest.
That is all I could think on Sunday as over thirty of us gathered to make an important decision, one decision among many more to come:
Who do we want to welcome as neighbors?
We cannot be all things to all people, we cannot provide housing for everyone. We have to make some difficult choices.
I listened as members intimately aware of the issues that surround providing housing for the chronically homeless voiced important concerns about our capacity to be neighbors to those who struggle with mental illness.
I listened as we voiced our fears regarding the effect different groups might have on our church community and neighborhood.
I listened as we recognized that affordable housing must include supportive services. A roof isn’t enough, the chronically homeless need services to help them stay in housing.
I listened to our frustration and sadness as we realized that we cannot simply build for our current unhoused neighbors, that we have to work with an affordable housing system that neglects people we know really need housing.
So many real concerns were voiced. Honest concerns, concerns rooted in our experiences of our neighbors, of being neighbors. Concerns we must continue to address.
I also heard this:
We want to be a haven for our neighbors. Every concern shared, every hope expressed, was infused by the heart of St. Philip: we have always been a haven for those unwelcome elsewhere, and we want to continue to cherish them as our beloved neighbors.
Last week, Mother Alcena was invited to share St. Philip’s story to the Leaven Community Land & Housing Cohort (view it here), and it was a powerful story that underscored the heart of St. Philip; we have always been a haven.
So, we decided that we want to try to build 50/50 low rent/very low rent housing.
With this decision, we have asked our development partners, Steve and Nick of Second Stories, to examine the financial viability of building 50/50 affordable housing. They are experts in understanding how affordable housing works, how it is funded, how it is supported over the long haul with appropriate services and management. We may not be able to build at 50/50. We may not get this particular bond. We might still decide we don’t want this bond, but would rather pursue funds that align even better with the desires of our hearts.
We need to continue to talk about the neighbors on our hearts, the neighbors on God’s heart, and where they intersect.
But I am so proud that we want to have this conversation, that we want to steward our land for the benefit of people who need neighbors. I never thought that wrestling with affordable housing would be how I would spend my priesthood. But now that I am doing that, I am so grateful.
Thank you. Thank you for your boldness, your faithfulness, and your utter commitment to be beloved neighbors to those in need.
The decision was precipitated by the somewhat sudden release of a request for qualifications for Metro bond money to support affordable housing, the deadline for which is December 1st. Money from this bond could be one piece of a ‘stack’ of funding which together will help us build housing. This bond specifically requires:
- 100% of all the housing we build must be affordable, low rent, housing. That is, individuals or families who earn 60% of the median family income (MFI) must be able to afford the units.
- At least 25% must be very low rent housing. That is, affordable for those who earn 30% or less MFI.
- At least 25% must be available for those who suffer “chronic homelessness,” specifically, individuals who have a mental illness and/or physical disability and have repeated experiences of houselessness, be houseless, or about to be houseless due to the disabling condition.
- Gethsemane Lutheran Church in downtown Seattle built affordable housing on their property, and produced an excellent video on the process and realities of building, Simplified Eligibility Chart for PHB, the document we used in our meeting on Sunday, Nov 1.
- Sacred Land Common Ground.
- The Metro Housing Bond RFQ
- Portland Housing Bond website, and list of already approved projects.