Housing in the U.S.A.
The Scriptures look ahead to that ideal day when all persons will enjoy pleasant, peaceful, and secure shelter under their own vines and fig trees and "no one shall make them afraid" (Micah 4:4 NRSV).
In many portions of the Gospel, we find Jesus seeking out homes for retreat and renewal, for fellowship and hospitality. Similarly, all persons are entitled to dwelling places that provide for safety, privacy and recreation.
The Social Principles statement of The United Methodist Church declares: "We hold governments responsible for . . . guarantee of the rights to adequate . . . shelter" (¶ 164A). We reaffirm this right as well as the assertion of the 1972 General Conference that "housing for low income persons should be given top priority" (The Book of Resolutions 1972).
The need for adequate housing at affordable costs is critical today.
Love for neighbor demands that Christians care about how adequately their neighbors are sheltered. Christians should identify with those who suffer daily from a shortage of available, decent, safe, and sanitary housing. There are many levels and forms of deprivation. Nearly every American town and city has its "homeless," those who exist literally without any form of shelter, living under bridges, in cars and abandoned buses, carrying their entire possessions with them in a few shopping bags.
Millions of families huddle together in densely overcrowded apartments, rural shacks, ancient house trailers, converted warehouses, and condemned or abandoned buildings. Many of our fellow citizens live in housing that lack such necessities as running water or plumbing, and others have no permanent housing (the homeless) because the remainder of us fail to recognize their plight or simply do not care enough.
Since December of 1986, families with children have become the fastest growing homeless group. While The United Methodist Church affirms the pervasive powers of families as "creators of persons, proclaimers of faith perspectives and shapers of both present and future society," it must continue its condemnation of policies that ignore the causal relationship between shortages of low-income housing and the lack of initiative or political will to ensure that safe and affordable housing is available to all citizens.
The deinstitutionalization of persons diagnosed as mentally ill or recovering, or who could live full lives with minimal supervision, is a concept of worth. However, a lack of regional and community planning has allowed many people to be released from a variety of institutions with no place to go, no affordable housing on the budgets allotted to persons through federal or state funds, and no supervised environment for those who need it. Few services exist to maintain supervised, semi-independent, safe, affordable housing. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that one third of the homeless have mental health problems. Some are persons who were deinstitutionalized with no support; others became ill because of the environment of homelessness.
"Am I my brother s keeper?" (Genesis 4:9 NRSV) becomes a challenging alternative when concerned United Methodists begin to address the phenomenon of increased homeless families in our country. We must grapple with ways to meet the needs of the homeless. We must be more open to using church buildings that are outmoded and excess land in urban and rural areas. We must examine needs and services in our communities and develop a better understanding of our role in local, state, and federal policy development. We commend United Methodists who are engaged in the effort to change such intolerable housing conditions. We commend every such individual, local church, interfaith group, nonprofit, for-profit, and government effort. We endorse with gratitude and appreciation the thousands of dollars and untold hours of voluntary service that United Methodists dedicate to this battle to improve human shelter in our country. We urge local churches, districts, and annual conferences to strengthen every housing ministry taking place within their communities by providing additional financial, technical, counseling, and spiritual resources.
Many specific activities deserve greater United Methodist support.
A. At the local level
Formation of nonprofit and limited-divided housing corporations or housing cooperatives is a viable approach in many situations. There are excellent opportunities for establishing housing construction, management, and advocacy programs. However, expert consultative and technical services generally are needed from the earliest conception. We urge the use of the services provided by the General Board of Global Ministries. We urge landowners, apartment and housing managers, and policy boards to allow federally subsidized tenants to inhabit their dwellings. This is a serious problem at this time, because U.S. government policy recommends selling up to 30 percent of public housing units for private development. The net result is displacement of the poor. Availability of housing for them is limited because of discrimination and a reluctance on the part of the government to maintain federally subsidized housing monies for privately owned housing.
B. At the regional level
Every urbanized area in our country is required to have some form of a regional planning agency. Most rural areas have some similar agency, such as an area development district. Generally these political structures have considerable influence upon housing patterns, planning, production, and usage. Most can have citizens advisory groups that develop strategy proposals and monitor private and governmental housing activities. We urge United Methodists to become knowledgeable of and involved in such planning agencies.
C. At the national level
Therefore, we call upon United Methodists to undertake a concerted effort to impress upon their elected representatives a profound concern over the continuing housing deficiencies existing in our cities, towns, and rural areas. Much more effort needs to be made to influence the legislative processes that affect housing, including improving existing laws, developing more imaginative approaches where possible, and providing adequate funding for housing designated to meet the needs of the ill-sheltered.
(1) Subsidized rental housing (Section 8) and public housing
The Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) is the primary source of income for many people who now find themselves homeless. The amount of money that many families with children receive is lower than the average cost of housing in many states. This situation will exacerbate when TANF recipients are terminated due to the term limits now imposed by federal and state governments.
We are greatly concerned over the rapidly increasing trend toward converting rental housing to condominiums for sale. Too often in practice this means pushing people out of housing they can afford to rent but can't afford to buy. We therefore recommend that the rate of condominium conversion of rental units be slowed, or that percentages of the units be set aside with affordable rental rates. Further, we urge local housing authorities to offset this trend by encouraging increased housing stock of subsidized rental units.
We support use of a wide variety of subsidized housing approaches in order to meet a greater demand to house needy people. However, the development of a "voucher" program with no ceiling on the actual rent that can be charged and no local community guarantee of housing set aside for the poor will not alleviate the present situation.
Public housing continues to be a vital necessity in both urban and rural areas. Every incorporated city, town, and county can and should provide public, well-constructed, and well-managed rental housing for those who cannot obtain it on the open market. Nearly 50 percent of all housing is now occupied by the elderly. Since the church has traditionally expressed concern and provided care of the aging, it is especially crucial that this program is continued, expanded, and adequately funded.
We must at all times critically examine the setting at the local, state, and federal levels, because governmental policies affect the funding, improvement, and provision of housing resources for any given community. The Federal Administration between 1981 and 1988 tried to eliminate or reduce the main federal programs used by states and local governments to help the poor and the homeless. The Community Development Block Grant Program, General Revenue Sharing, and the Temporary Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) have all been affected. The Community Development Block Grant Program budget has been cut almost yearly. General Revenue Sharing was eliminated. The Administration has targeted for elimination the Temporary Emergency Food Assistance Program. Congress has repeatedly come to the rescue of these programs and in 1986 passed a law allowing the homeless to receive Aid to Families with Dependent Children (Now Temporary Aid to Needy Families), social security, and Medicaid.
(2) Fair housing
We therefore call upon the U.S. Congress to provide the Department of Housing and Urban development with "cease and desist" enforcement powers, and we encourage HUD to apply these powers evenly and with relentless determination to ensure equal access to affordable housing in all markets. We support state and local legislation that would strengthen fair housing enforcement across the country. We also support HUD funding for states with laws that are substantially equivalent to federal law. We also call for the expansion of coverage in the Fair Housing Act to provide protection for people with disabilities.
Equal access to housing not available represents an unrealizable right. Therefore, to fulfill equal opportunity objectives we urge that more housing be built and offered at prices most persons can afford to pay.
We support existing laws such as the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act, which provides information to the public on where banks and savings and loans make their loans, and the enlarged Community Reinvestment Act, which mandates that banks and savings and loans have the responsibility to serve the credit needs of moderate and lower-income communities.
We urge compliance of the institutions in which the church deposits funds with the Home Mortgage Act; and we support such additional regulations and laws that will ensure reinvestment in currently redlined communities, in a way that will not result in unjust displacement of elderly, poor, ethnic minority, and other persons.
B. Housing for Older Adults and People with Disabilities
(3) Housing for Native Americans
(4) Financing of Housing
The higher the family income, the more these tax immunities breaks help. Three fourths of these tax immunities breaks go to homeowners in the top 15 percent of the income bracket. Poor or lower-middle class homeowners get only 3 percent of the tax immunities breaks. Government-subsidized mortgage programs need to be developed that can also aid the lower-middle class and poor individuals and families.
In contrast to the rapid growth in federal aid to move well-to-do homeowners through the Internal Revenue Code, Congress has continued to cut the federal budget in areas that greatly affect poor working families.
New methods of private financing need to be developed so that traditional money sources are not withdrawn from the housing industry in favor of other, more profitable forms of investment.
(1) Be concerned about the conditions of housing in their communities;
(2) Use the tools available (e.g., General Board of Global Ministries Housing Consultant Services) to provide better housing;
(3) Dedicate a special day or Sunday as a Day of Prayer and Action for Shelter, as has been developed by Habitat for Humanity (contact the General Board of Global Ministries for special resources); and
(4) Develop a sense of mission and assume responsibility as stewards to meet these needs without expectation of monetary reward.
(5) Encourage the establishment and full funding of a Community and State Fair Housing Trust Fund.
In implementing any housing ministry, church people must maintain great sensitivity to community needs and work to achieve community participation and control. Tenants need for adequate, reasonably priced and energy-efficient housing should be recognized. Care must always be exercised to ensure our Christian involvement as "enablers" rather than "controllers." Our goal must always be to enable those we help to be in control of their own lives, futures, and destinies. Whatever the form of community organization, housing production, management, or ownership of a housing project, every effort should be made at each developmental step to ensure that those who are being aided are afforded the opportunity, and indeed, are required, to take every action necessary to direct the undertaking. Wherever possible, we must train rather than service, transfer power rather than decide, empower rather than control. In this as in all other aspects of housing ministries, United Methodists should seek the best technical guidance and ensure the greatest professional competence for such a ministry. Let us equip ourselves and provide the widest possible range of supportive assistance to individuals, congregations, districts, conferences, and all forms of cooperative groups sharing similar goals and policies so that our fellow citizens may achieve, as their right, "decent, safe and sanitary housing" as soon as possible.
See Social Principles, ¶ 162A.
From The Book of Resolutions of The United