Faith Communities Explore Ways to Support Housing Efforts

Laura Martin, AHS board member and associate pastor at Rock Spring Congregational UUC, and AHS executive director Michelle Winters greeted attendees of the Faith & Housing Roundtable October 28.

Laura Martin, AHS board member and associate pastor at Rock Spring Congregational UUC, and AHS executive director Michelle Winters greeted attendees of the Faith & Housing Roundtable October 28.

Communities of faith have long been involved in housing issues in Arlington and around the Country. At the AHS 2018 Leckey Forum Dolores Leckey recalled how an interfaith group worked to help pass Fair Housing laws to protect buyers and renters against discrimination. They brought seminarians and their guitars in to canvas neighborhoods and collaborated across faith traditions to spread the message, eventually collecting 45,000 signatures to support the cause. (Watch the video of her story.)

That was fifty years ago, but these groups continue to work together. On October 28, representatives of 10 organizations gathered with the Alliance for Housing Solutions to discuss the intersection of faith and affordable housing. Out of their experience and expertise came the following suggestions:

Listen to the community

When Arlington Presbyterian Church was considering the future of its home on Columbia Pike, Kristl Hathaway was a member of the church’s visioning group that first walked the neighborhood to ask its residents what was most needed. They heard from the people who provided childcare in the community who said that in the past they had been able to stay late when needed and had casual interactions with the families.

“Now they have to take three buses to get home to Manassas,” Hathaway said. She pointed out that beyond moral grounds, the availability of affordable housing has practical benefits for the whole community. “Parents with young families would like to be able to show up 15 minutes late, but they can’t because the people who provide care do not live nearby.”

According to Pat Findikoglu, Virginians Organized for Community Engagement (VOICE) recently held a listening session with parents of students who are part of the Aspire! Afterschool Learning program at Arlington Mill Community Center.

“One of the themes that came across was the inability for people to plan or doing anything on a tight, tight budget,” Findikoglu said. “There are many issues, but housing was up there right on the top.”

Consider using land for affordable housing

Making the decision to use land for affordable housing can be stressful for any landowner, including communities of faith who have multiple stakeholders to answer to. John Welsh, AHC, Inc.’s Multifamily Group Vice President, said both selling and leasing land are options for faith communities that want to help create affordable housing.

Real estate partnerships between faith communities and nonprofit housing developers have been in the news recently, and national organizations like Enterprise Community Partners have created programs to help these partnerships flourish.

“The Macedonian Baptist Church had underutilized piece of land that was not practical as an ongoing operation,” Welsh said. “Now they get an annual income stream they can use however they want from us paying them an annual ground-lease to have the apartment building there.”

The Macedonian opened in 2011 in Arlington’s Nauck community. Its 36 apartments are available to Arlington residents whose income falls between 50 and 60 percent of Area Median Income.

After a years-long visioning process, Arlington Presbyterian Church sold its land. APAH is now partnering with the church to develop Gilliam Place, a multifamily development that will provide 173 new affordable homes along Columbia Pike. The congregation will lease space on the first floor of the building for meeting and office space. The congregation also plans to develop a community green space on the property at the corner of Lincoln and 9th Streets. The project is currently slated to be complete by late 2019.

Support the work in other ways

"There are congregations that aren't ready to use their land,” said Alice Hogan, a parishioner at Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Church. She suggested congregations can find other ways to be involved in helping their neighbors—such as Matthew 25 Thrift Store, which provides gently used clothing free of charge to those in need.

Some congregations choose to make financial contributions to organizations that work on affordable housing. Rock Spring Congregational Church uses its Social Action and Mission grants program to support the work of AHS and other community-based organizations.

Faith groups can also help by keeping members apprised of ways they can support the cause of affordable housing. Findikoglu, a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington, said it’s helpful for people to know what the options are.

“When the county is doing a survey, reach out to the community to tell them there’s an opportunity to fill out a survey,” she said. “Here is something you can do with your family, something you can do on your computer, a meeting you can attend.”

Let elected officials know where you stand

Some faith communities choose to get involved, directly or indirectly, in advocating for policies that support affordable housing. AHS Board Chair Mary Margaret Whipple said, “It helps elected officials make good decisions when they can say the community is behind them.”

As a policy and advocacy organization, AHS is involved in many decisions that the Arlington County Board takes that affect affordable housing—from the annual budget allocations for housing programs to whether to approve a particular development project.

Groups who wish to take a proactive approach on a wider spectrum of policy issues can join VOICE or other similar multi-issue coalitions such as the Community Progress Network.

Be courageous, take action

Faith communities have made a difference in Arlington and will continue to do so. Whipple recalled how faith communities rallied together to push the county to open a homeless shelter. Different congregations housed people on a rotating basis, using what space and amenities they had available. The Homeless Services Center was opened in Courthouse in October 2015 in response to the community’s advocacy.

Whipple said, “They had inadequate spaces, but it showed that people cared enough about the issue that they had taken it into their own hands.”

Thanks to Rock Spring Congregational UUC for hosting us, and to the following organizations for attending: Arlington County Housing Division, Arlington Presbyterian Church, AHC Inc., APAH, Catholics for Housing, Our Lady Queen of Peace Church, Raj Khalsa Gurdwara, VOICE, and Westover Baptist Church.

Curious about the content? Download the PDF version of the presentation.

AHS also recently hosted a roundtable for realtors, lenders, and developers to discuss middle-income home ownership in Arlington. Read their suggestions here.