Interview with book editor, Jill Shook

22 Sep

Jill Shook1. Many who are struggling to pay their rent or mortgage ask: does any real affordable housing exist?

The housing crisis today is still very serious, rentals are high, and it is hard for many low-income people to obtain loans to purchase homes, but there is good news nonetheless. Despite this bleak economic climate, churches and faith groups are figuring out how to create beautiful, environmentally-wise, affordable housing that is transforming lives and communities. The stories are so inspiring that they begged to be written.

 2. As the editor of Making Housing Happen,  how did you become involved in affordable housing?

While I was directing STARS, an after school program I had the joy of helping to found at Lake Avenue Church in Pasadena, I went into the homes of countless families and consistently witnessed 2-3 families squeezed into a one or two bedroom apartment, parents working long hours at low-wage jobs and youth dropping out of school to work, in order to help make ends meet. When I helped families move into a faith-based affordable housing complex, parents began to live within their means, had time for their children, and their children were graduating. That sold me on the value of faith-based affordable housing. I have a second reason I’d like to share. I intentionally moved into a low-income community of color, which I absolutely love. But as I improved my property and other white folks like myself moved in, many of my lower income neighbors, including people of color, could no longer afford to stay. I became part of the problem. The only way I know how to retain a mixed-income community is to make housing affordable or to increase wages. God put in me a passion to focus on affordable housing.

3. You feature a broad array of authors who tell their God-sized stories of making housing happen, how did compile such a work?

While attending the Christian Community Development Association’s annual conference, I asked Bob Lupton if his famous story of turning a horrible prison into beautiful affordable housing had been written. He said it hadn’t. When I told him I was thinking of compiling a book of inspiring faith based affordable housing stories, Bob wrote up his story and sent it me two weeks later! With a contribution from someone like Bob, known for developing mixed income communities, other authors were inspired to also contribute chapters.

4. What is your favorite story in the book?

I love them all—otherwise I wouldn’t have featured them—but the chapter that impresses me the most is the one about Nehemiah Homes in South Bronx. I still can’t get over how 60 congregations built over 5,000 homes—infusing low income homeowners into Brooklyn and South Bronx, communities where no one would invest–and then succeeded in transforming the people, the churches and the whole community—with less than a 1% foreclosure rate. But the model I feel most drawn to is the community land trust (CLT)—whereby homes are sold, but the land is kept in a trust to create a permanent source of affordability. This is brilliant, a deeply biblical strategy and it works. I believe this and variations on this model could be a large part the solution to our housing crisis today; and hundreds of cities across the US are figuring this out.

5. You have effectively compiled inspiring stories of others creating affordable housing. Have you also been involved in making housing happen?

I have become passionate about the importance of housing and land use policies. For example, here in Pasadena I was part of team to craft our local inclusionary housing policy—whereby any housing development that is 10 units or more in size must set aside 15% of the units as affordable. Since then, I have had the joy bringing pastors and parishioners out to help developers gain needed approvals –if they include units for the low- and very-low income. You will read of this and my other housing escapades in this book.

 6. What are the biggest challenges you see today that are preventing affordable housing from happening?

Many would point to national priorities, allocation of funds, access to resources, or specifically to predatory and greedy banking practices, while others point to the excess of or lack of government investment or regulation. Still others would say the poor just don’t stand a chance today as they are the small Davids facing the Goliath of big investors, big banks and big corporations. All of this is true, but I am convinced that the church has the power and the imagination to change all of this. When people of faith and the poor are organized and a voice is given to the voiceless, and their stories of pain are consistently told to those with the power to do something about it, redemption for both the powerful and seemingly powerless takes place. When this kind of ministry takes place the kingdom of God is present, housing again happens, and the angels rejoice to see that there is room in the inn. You will read of such stories of struggle and hope in Making Housing Happen.

To order a copy, please visit Wipf and Stock Publishers.



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