Tag Archives: St. Paul

Beacon Interfaith: Empowering Churches to Build Affordable Housing, Part 3

2 Mar

Part One of this series introduced Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative’s mission to end homelessness through affordable housing. In Part Two, congregational organizer Allison Johnson described how Beacon and its partners gain the needed support. Part Three shows how the commitment gained through organizing has produced homes for hundreds.

Lorenzo, a resident of American House

After battling homelessness and addiction for 25 years, Lorenzo has a place of his own at American House.

A crucial organizing step is the call to action, both inside and outside the congregation. A good example is a recent breakfast held by Beacon and a partner church. Approximately 80 leaders attended, including congregants, local community leaders, and supporters, who heard from a panel of experts on homelessness and a state senator.

Attendees were then asked to endorse the housing project and state why it was important. While not binding, Allison says, the action was a concrete step that helped seal commitment to and support for the project. “It also provides a solid base of individuals who can act when needed.”

Much of the organizing takes place before the actual work of developing housing, yet is essential in laying the ground for success. Using the process to galvanize support and resources, Beacon and its partner congregations have created or preserved affordable, safe homes for hundreds of people.

American-House

American House is home to 69 residents and includes supportive services on site.

Among the many success stories are Nicollet Square, which provides housing for youth; Creekside Commons, a family housing development with a waiting list of several hundred; and American House, a 69-unit complex for single adults.

For Lorenzo, having a home has meant much more than just a place to sleep. After he battled homelessness and addiction for 25 years, the American House resident has found the stability, support, and community needed to turn his life around.

“They hand you the keys to your room; it’s like keys to a Rolls Royce,’’ he said. (Read more about Lorenzo’s journey at MinnPost.com.)

Beacon’s model forms a “powerful public-private partnership” that taps public funders and congregational resources to create affordable developments, notes Kris Berggren, the agency’s communications specialist. The result is a win-win: Creating housing is transformational not only for residents, but also for congregation members.

As Kris puts it, “Beacon is a catalyst – tapping into people who never dreamed they could help accomplish such things.”

Photos courtesy of Beacon.

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Beacon Interfaith is featured on pages 179–181 of Making Housing Happen – read an excerpt here. You can find more info and purchase the book at the Wipf and Stock website.

Beacon Interfaith: Empowering Churches to Build Affordable Housing, Part 2

2 Mar

Part One of this series introduced Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative. Beacon organizes and partners with faith congregations who have a vision to end homelessness and create affordable housing. Part Two walks through the congregational organizing process.

Allison Johnson, Beacon Interfaith congregational organizer

Allison Johnson

Along with her colleague Deb Rodgers, congregational organizer Allison Johnson helps congregations prepare themselves to engage in the full process of housing development through education and empowerment:

  • Education: Assisting faith leaders in training members on housing challenges, demographics, and job information, and become equipped to share their learning with others;
  • Empowerment: Enabling congregants to develop skills and tools to translate their passion into action – whether engaging their neighborhoods to take part, advocating at the state legislature for more funding, or attending city meetings to build support.

How does the organizing process work?

To launch the process, congregational organizers spend time with top leadership in a faith community, asking questions and exploring the level of commitment to ending homelessness. A big factor is whether or not a congregation is ready to lead publicly on a controversial issue, Allison notes – because creating new affordable housing is almost always controversial at some stage.

Prior Crossing, future apartment building for unhoused youth

Beacon is currently partnering with The House of Hope Presbyterian Church to develop Prior Crossing, which will offer 44 apartments for homeless youth.

The congregation leaders sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Beacon, and recruit a housing task force. Invitations are extended to other leaders (lay and ordained); professionals working in real estate, architecture, construction, social services; and any congregant who’s passionate about ending homelessness through affordable housing.

Once the task force is in place, members team up with Allison to raise awareness about homelessness and affordable housing. They also work with Beacon’s housing development staff to set the project vision and answer critical questions.

Who needs affordable housing the most? What community resources are available at the state/local/city level to meet those needs? What type of housing might gain traction within the community?

“Once a congregation sets parameters around a vision for housing, it has essentially ‘bought in’ for the long haul,” Allison says. “The project is no longer Beacon’s – it’s their own.”

Coming soon: Part Three looks at a crucial organizing step, and how hundreds of people have found new homes as a result of Beacon’s partnerships with congregations.

Photos courtesy of Beacon.

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Beacon Interfaith’s story appears on pages 179–181 of Making Housing Happen. You can read an excerpt here, and find more info or purchase the book at the Wipf and Stock website.

Beacon Interfaith: Empowering Churches to Build Affordable Housing, Part 1

28 Feb

The challenges of ending homelessness and creating affordable housing are complex and many. These tasks are not for the faint of heart. They call for a community of committed and passionate people, hard work, perseverance, and faith in the mission.

That’s where Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative comes in.  

Located in the Twin Cities, Minnesota, the organization was begun by members of Plymouth Congregational Church in Minneapolis who daily met homeless neighbors. Congregants decided to address the problem’s root causes by developing the Lydia Apartments, which just marked its tenth anniversary of changing lives.

Growing out of Plymouth, Beacon brought its expertise of working with congregations to the broader community. The organization now partners with faith groups of many denominations, empowering them to direct their own passion and resources toward ending homelessness.

“It takes time and care to build support within congregations, which have their own programs, groups and concerns,” notes Kris Berggren, Beacon’s communications specialist. “But people of faith bring so many assets to the table, including their values and motivation to act for the good of others.”

And its model works: Since 1999, Beacon has partnered with over 50 faith congregations to complete 16 affordable housing projects, both new and renovated structures, and to provide emergency shelter.

Jordan, resident of Nicollet Square

Jordan is one of 42 young residents of Nicollet Square, a partnership among Beacon, Plymouth Church, and Westminster Presbyterian Church.

Close to 800 residents have found homes, and
 four more projects are in the pipeline. In addition, each day 30 parents and children find support at Families Moving Forward, an emergency and transitional shelter operated by Beacon.

The agency’s model works because it creates the strong support structure needed to see development projects through. “It’s about building relationships in order to expand the network of people who care about affordable housing,” says Allison Johnson, a Beacon congregational partnership organizer. “We want to ensure that it’s transformational for the congregation and community.”

Before coming to Beacon, Allison worked with congregations with Sojourners on the issue of immigration reform. “There are many parallels between affordable housing and the immigration issue,” she notes.

“Just as angry U.S. citizens may rail against immigrants in their community for taking jobs and taxpayer resources, neighbors turn out at meetings to blast affordable housing developments, claiming they will drive down property values and increase criminal activity.

“The tools to combat these attitudes in our society are remarkably similar – moral courage, a willingness to listen, and facts to educate the general public and reduce stigmas,” Allison says.

In Part Two, learn how organizing works and why it’s crucial to Beacon’s mission.

Photos courtesy of Beacon.

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Beacon Interfaith is featured on pages 179–181 of Making Housing Happen – read an excerpt here. You can find more info and purchase the book on the Wipf and Stock website.

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