Bert Newton shares his story as a housing justice advocate

24 Nov

bert headshotMy father was a pastor with small churches and small salaries. He was also a missionary, and when I was 8 years old, we lived in the country of Jordan. We lived next to a hillside where people lived in dire poverty, in makeshift shacks.

Later, in Tennessee, right after desegregation in the mid 70’s, I saw the racialization of poverty in the U.S. I remember at school hearing white kids asking black kids what they were getting for Christmas, and the black kids having to explain that they weren’t getting anything because their parents could buy them anything.

In my home the Jesus story was revered, so I took it seriously and committed by life to Christ when I was seven. I knew that Jesus cared about poverty and wealth. I read that Jesus said, “blessed are you who are poor…but woe to you who are rich.” And he laid down his life for all people. I understood all that as a child.

Later, my studies in seminary led me to understand Jesus as a radical peasant leader of a movement for justice.

The gospel gave me hope, but looking around at a world filled with injustice I often felt hopeless.

Then, in 2000, I found this very diverse group of people organizing for affordable housing in Pasadena. They were advocating something called an “inclusionary housing ordinance” that would compel housing developers to set aside a portion of the units as affordable to moderate, low, and very low-income households.

I joined the group.

That group evolved into Making Housing and Community Happen.

We won that first campaign.

But even more than winning, my hope was lifted by seeing people come together to work for justice, demonstrating love and compassion for their neighbors.

We have continued winning victories, and that gives me hope too. In 2018 we won a campaign to build 69 units of permanent supportive housing for seniors experiencing homelessness. In 2019 we won an even stronger inclusionary ordinance.

Then we received a grant that funds my current position, and now I’m building a network through local faith congregations, deepening our roots in the community and building the power we need to transform our city.

I get to use my training in the Jesus story, training from my childhood and from seminary, to work with churches.

I find that most churches already care about their neighbors and are doing things about it. Several churches in Pasadena have food and/or shelter programs. One church provides nine units of affordable housing, another provides around a quarter of a million dollars in rental assistance to families every year!!

I get to talk with them about how their work is the work of the Gospel and how this work now gives them the moral authority to speak for justice. Through this work we are building community and transforming our city, so that one day we will realize the vision of the prophet Micah where everyone has a home to live in with no one to make them afraid!

Click here to watch Bert tell his housing justice story.

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