Affordable housing isn’t someone else’s burden.
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.
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.
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.
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