The dire need for affordable housing for families and older adults exists in every city and town in the United States. Many CHHSM organizations provide affordable housing in their communities, but what they are able to offer pales in comparison to the need. The experiences of UCC-related Retirement Housing Foundation (RHF), headquartered in Long Beach, Calif., illustrates this gap. RHF has 197 communities across the country.
“Affordable housing is extremely important because a good and affordable place to live not only provides a better life for people, it saves the government — us — money in that it keeps people out of hospitals and nursing homes,” says the Rev. Laverne R. Joseph, president of RHF. In RHF’s affordable housing communities, “we have 23,500 residents, but more than 40,000 people on our waiting lists.”
Joseph cites recently opened St. James Park, Crenshaw Gardens and Crenshaw Villas in Los Angeles as examples. All three opened in 2019. St. James Park is a 105-apartment family community with more than 1,400 families on the waiting list. Crenshaw Gardens, with 49 apartments for families, has a waiting list of more than 2,700 persons. And Crenshaw Villas, a 49-unit apartment building for older adults, has more than 700 persons on the waiting list.
“In larger cities, the waiting lists are extremely long but even in many smaller cities, the lists are five times the number of apartments,” Joseph says.
To raise awareness of the issues around affordable housing and homelessness, the UCC’s Council for Health and Human Service Ministries and Justice and Witness Ministries (JWM) has released the second installment of its Be A Voice Health and Human Service Toolkit. “Affordable Housing and Homelessness” provides stories, context, and other resources for becoming health and human service advocates.
The toolkit releases a new section each month, and works in tandem with JWM’s Our Faith Our Vote Campaign. Both provide information and ideas to assist individuals, congregations and organizations in being a voice in nonpartisan and meaningful ways.
“The Be A Voice Toolkit is written from the perspective of health equity,” says the Rev. Elyse Berry, CHHSM’s associate for advocacy and leadership development. “It was created by CHHSM and JWM staff to provide information and advocacy tools for the 2020 election.”
Volume 2 of the toolkit examines the factors behind the lack of safe and affordable housing, as well as the impact housing can have on individuals and families. As with the first installment — Health Care for All — the new chapter opens with a case study and testimony from someone who received needed care from a CHHSM agency. The chapter then provides the context framing the affordable housing and homelessness crisis, as well as a history of faith-based, UCC responses. It concludes with suggested questions for candidates running for office in the fall, and with social media resources and graphics that can be used on a variety of social media sites.
According to Michael J. Readinger, CHHSM president and CEO, the toolkit topics stem from the services provided by CHHSM organizations, as well as from a list identified by CHHSM’s Board of Directors. “The toolkit is just one more way CHHSM is working to create a more just, caring, and compassionate world,” he says.
The next installment, due out the last week of March, will be on reproductive justice. Future topics will include older adult services and food insecurity, among other topics.
The toolkit is aimed at helping people to find their own justice advocacy voices, says Sandy Sorensen, director of JWM’s Washington, D.C., office. “We want them to become motivated to share the impact health and human service policies have on their day-to-day lives,” Sorensen says. “Everyone has a story, and every story matters. Every voice matters, especially in this important election year.”