Dear Haywood St.,
At our annual retreat six years ago, the board voted unanimously on two long-range priorities: the fresco and deeply affordable housing. Now that principal artist Christopher Holt has completed his tear-invoking depiction of the Beatitudes, an unparalleled act of grace in pigment and plaster, our focus, in addition to existing Spirit-led ministries, is now on building permanent addresses.
Motivated by congregants surviving on the street and struggling in institutionalized tenements, we began in earnest by chasing a variety of properties, dialoguing with elected officials, meeting with City and County staff, holding private fundraisers, engaging architecture and civil engineering, touring other projects, and taking notes on the corner of poverty about how to construct housing in radically new ways.
While the intersection of real estate, politics, money, urban renewal, reparations, and NIMBYism is volatile, we are, after seasons of disquiet and disappointment, nearing site control on two downtown properties. The first will be a 42-unit building with a mix of 1, 2, and 3-bedroom apartments targeting primarily 60% Area Median Income (AMI) and below. Most of the residents will be voucher holders. The ground floor includes 5000 square feet for recovery meetings, community nursing, case management, food pantries, counseling, legal services, flex space, and neighborhood priorities. Our second project will be financed through low-income tax credits, twin buildings on a larger parcel with twice as many apartments and even more onsite services.
Sensing the need to formalize our efforts, we have incorporated a new sister entity with the mission statement: “Presenting keys at the back of the line first, Haywood St. Community Development is called to deeply affordable housing designed with dignity, built for belonging, and created to frustrate poverty with a forever home.” The Board- a constellation of new members, current congregants, and public servants- is meeting, receiving contributions, and making decisions as we move closer to breaking ground.
On current and future multifamily projects, you can expect these specific values to guide our developments: all units will be deeply affordable in perpetuity, our preferential bias is towards the lowest AMI levels, we’ll build collaboratively inviting sacred and secular partners, revenues will be directed back into resident programming and seeding the next deal, construction will utilize only premium materials, a multitude of services will be onsite, and the belief that affordable housing alone doesn’t end homelessness but housing with unflinching community does.
Although housing is by far the most significant social determinate of health, dramatically improving physical and mental wellness, and housing ultimately saves municipalities enormous sums of money, an unhoused resident can cost upwards of $40,000 annually, a higher power informs our calling. Of all the ways to locate in the human condition, Jesus chose to be born into a world with no vacancies, to spend his first Christmas and his adult life without a place to call home. His intentional witness then remains an invitation for us now to participate in recreating heaven on earth one new front door at a time.
In appreciation for our life together,
Rev. Brian Combs