This is not a revelation but a fact: Individuals and families of low and moderate income can't make ends meet. They are the working poor. They are here in Massachusetts. They are in my community. They are across the country. They are in your community.
Often those in need are the faces you see every day. They are normal people working hard, sometimes at several jobs, just to pay their rent, put food on the table and or even trying to help their kids pay for college, their pathway to a better life. They are living, but just barely.
Recently, Massachusetts voters were given a ballot question to repeal the affordable housing law -- Chapter 40b, as it's referred to here in Massachusetts -- and we at Episcopal City Mission (ECM), a community of Episcopalians in the Diocese of Massachusetts committed to justice, believe that access to decent, affordable housing is a basic human right. What's more, the opportunity for these individuals and families to live in safe, sanitary and decent housing cannot be determined by the forces of the marketplace alone. It is the role of government at the federal, state and local levels, as well as churches and other private sector institutions to help secure this right for all of those in need.
Fortunately, Massachusetts voters did the right thing and kept the affordable housing law; however, the law by itself doesn't end homelessness. Annually, more than 15,000 people – individuals, families and children – are homeless in Massachusetts and more than 670,000 people are homeless across the country. With the difficult economy and high unemployment rates, these numbers continue to escalate.
ECM has built a network of hundreds of advocates in Episcopal churches and community organizations to affect public policy. To that end, ECM is also republishing our 1980s policy paper, "Housing: A Basic Human Right," because we know that at the foundation of our faith is the Biblical tradition that declares that God is a God of justice whose special concern is for those who are the victims of injustice, neglect, discrimination and deprivation. To follow these teachings, we need to share God's concerns and engage in action to correct the wrong doing being done to our neighbors. To ignore the plight of our brothers and sisters who, because of lack of income or racial discrimination, live in unfit housing is to fail to participate in the life and mission of God in the world. To see that the hungry are fed, the naked clothed, and the homeless are given shelter has long been recognized as the heart of the moral expression of our faith.
For over 100 years, ECM has been committed to supporting efforts to build and provide access to affordable housing for low-income people and families in Massachusetts. Some examples include:
• building The Morville House to provide affordable apartments for 225 seniors in Boston;
• creating a Housing Seed Loan Program to provide low-rate or interest-free loans to cover start-up costs for the construction of new housing units or the rehabilitation of existing housing for the elderly, the poor and the handicapped, resulting in 4,600 units;
• launching an Affordable Housing Program to assist parishes within the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts in applying for funds to help them evaluate existing land or buildings on their property and how they might utilize assets to create new housing options within their community;
• and finally, for more than 30 years, ECM's Burgess Urban Fund has awarded grants totaling in excess of $4 million to community organizers and parishes in eastern Massachusetts that seek to develop housing for low-income individuals and families, organize public housing tenants fighting for their rights, advocate for the creation of affordable housing in Massachusetts and maintain fair laws to assure access to these units.
The activities of Episcopal City Mission have been of significant importance, not only because of the tangible results they have accomplished, but also because they have demonstrated what can happen when church agencies, government programs and citizens' organizations act in concert to address the housing needs of the people.
Our faith teaches that religious commitment is expressed through commitment to our neighbors. It is time for Episcopalians across the country to rise up and act justly toward our neighbors.