Interrupting the Status Quo

Housing Our Homeless and Low-Income Neighbors

By Jill Shook and Anthony Manousos, co-founders of Making Housing and Community Happen
Rabbi Grater recently preached at our church about the ancient biblical practice of Jubilee—an “interruption” of the status quo that occurs every 49 years when debts are forgiven, slaves are liberated, and land is restored to the poor who’ve lost their land (Leviticus 25). Rabbi Grater referred to this “resetting” of society as breaking the cycle of poverty. Leviticus’ land use laws are based on the belief that God is the owner of land and we are stewards. That’s why Making Housing and Community Happen (MHCH) is helping churches be good stewards of their property.  

Many churches struggling to survive have underutilized buildings and parking lots. They can use that space to benefit the community and the church by having affordable housing built, typically at no cost to the church, and with a return. Our Congregational Land Committee helps churches walk through feasibilities and a step-by-step process preparing them to partner with a professional affordable housing development partner.

Among the 10  Pasadena churches interested in this program, most are not properly zoned for housing. In response to this issue, we launched a campaign to rezone religious land, never imagining that it would take two years, hundreds of meetings with city officials, and mobilizing the public.  

Finally, on July 18, 2022, it came up for a vote. We were concerned because the Planning Department recommended a policy that would result in no affordable housing being built.

To be feasible, most projects need tax credit funding, which require at least 50 units on a site. That’s why we asked for just four more dwelling units per acre than what the Planning Department proposed.  

At this crucial meeting, 54 people showed up, from many churches throughout Pasadena, including ours. What a joy to hear Pastor Amy speak along with several other local pastors.  Going into the meeting we had no assurance of how the vote might go. Thanks to prayers and articulate testimonies, God moved the hearts of our Council members. It was a unanimous vote… but only a partial win.

They decided not to rezone public/semi-public sites, mainly in East Pasadena. This affluent area where few people of color live, has virtually no affordable housing because of NIMBYism (“not in my backyard”). Instead, affordable housing will be allowed in commercial zones located mainly in Northwest Pasadena, an area where people of color live because of policies like red-lining and racial covenants.  

While we rejoice in this win, the decision not to rezone in public areas was disappointing. John Kennedy, a well-known African American Council member and strong proponent of racial justice texted us and said, “Half a loaf is better than none,” then cast his supporting vote. Three days after the vote, Councilman Kennedy passed away.

Councilman Kennedy was a man of deep faith who advocated for the “least of these.” We grieve his loss, but also look to his legacy of helping others as inspiration. When this policy comes up for review next year, we hope to win the other “half of the loaf.”  

For now, we have turned our focus to turning out votes for rent control, on the ballot this fall, which we feel is critical for our city. In Pasadena rents rose 38% in the past year. Low-income people are being forced out of the city.

Corporate landlords are trying to turn affordable housing into luxury housing. Jill recently received a call from Diowanni Tate, an African American woman she met in a course called Reconcile Pasadena. She received a 60-day notice to vacate her Pasadena apartment. Jill informed her that this was illegal and showed her the county law preventing no-fault evictions until the end of this year, then urged her to contact the Pasadena Tenants Union. Over 100 people in Pasadena received such illegal notices. Ms. Tate passionately spoke along with others at a press conference on July 28. The next day, Helix, a corporate landlord, sent letters rescinding some of these evictions, including a letter to her.

“There is power in numbers,” Ms. Tate told us, “when we stick together.” That’s the lesson we’re learning from these campaigns. God has presented a clear vision for how to end poverty by ensuring that laws hold landowners accountable to the poor. Let’s work together for housing and racial justice to make affordable housing happen. We are deeply grateful for First UMC’s support.

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