This Housing Matters Blog post is excerpted from a sermon I was invited to deliver at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Essex, MA on April 17, 2016. I did my undergrad in Biblical Studies and I went to seminary, though I try not to admit it in public. For the full text of the sermon, link HERE.
What follows is the message that I hoped to impart. I do not often talk of my personal motivation for this work. This was that unique opportunity to do so.
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My name is Andrew DeFranza. I am a short, working class, Italian guy from New Jersey with an accidental white collar education. Most of what you need to know about me you now do.
I work with Harborlight Community Partners. We develop and manage housing for people with limited incomes:
- Parents, grandparents, working families ¦.people with disabilities.
- People whose work we depend on ¦who grow and serve our food, care for our children and parents, cut our grass, pick our fruit, and pour our drinks!
- We are involved with nearly 420 units of housing of which 370 are on the North Shore.
- We are working in 8 soon to be 9 communities and support homes for 500-600 people.
- This includes places like Turtle Creek, Turtle Woods, Pigeon Cove Ledges, Rockport High School Apartments, Whipple Riverview Place, and the Community Land Trust of Cape Ann.
- We spent a lot of time doing very boring and painful things the result of which is that economically vulnerable people can be included in our community.
- This is all harder than it should be.
I don’t often get to talk about the work we do and my personal motives. I grew up in a very conservative Church setting. We were the Italian Baptist connection of South Jersey (which is kind of strange). It worked for us. My parents are the most faithful people I know. They used all they had to pursue their convictions. I am barely the scent of their faithfulness.
(Within this context), our definitive directions (as I see it) are:
- Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and
- Love your neighbor as yourself
The first, in many ways, being evidenced by the second.
Neighboring – having much more to do with our behavior being consistent with the second greatest commandment than anyone’s physical proximity. Someone standing as our neighbor is about our character and behavior and not their zip code. Part of what we do act to right wrongs and to bring the good.
One of those wrongs in our community is related to housing. We have in our region a history of housing policy that is and has been designed to exclude. It is designed to exclude based on race and income ¦.and it has been wildly successful as evidenced by a stroll around many North Shore communities or a quick look at the census data on www.census.gov.
There were ways this was done before like redlining and strategically placed roads and bridges. There are ways it is done now like large lot, no multi family zoning and intentionally limited infrastructure around transportation, water, and sewers or septic systems.
75% of land that can be developed in the State is zoning only for single family housing.
We have fabricated a shortage of land for multi family housing creation which has driven up the costs of housing we need for people.
Our primary cause of the affordable housing crisis, according to a recent Mass Housing Partnership report, is restrictive local zoning laws.
Community Preservation Act funding that is supposed to go to housing is at times going to reports, staffing, planning, and rental assistance ¦.with no housing ever being built.
Lack of public sewer and water is used as a means to control growth.
Only people then with significant resources can buy the land, the water and septic systems, and the transportation access.
Others without that type of income cannot.
We make then for ourselves gated municipalities without gates ¦but to the same effect.
We get largely white and largely affluent communities because our policies intended it.
We have local discussions about diversity and fair housing. We set up committees to explore and support racial inclusion and housing access.
We house homeless families in our Churches through Family Promise and yet despite all this we are bewildered by how hard it is for people to find a place to live.
This is at best sadly ironic. At its worst it is morally incoherent.
But unlike many of the wrongs far away that we have little ability to address ourselves—this wrong we own. This wrong we can change.
We can support changes in zoning locally and at the State level.
We can support the use of Community Preservation Act resources for actual housing creation.
We can tell our leaders and neighbors that our collective and structural pattern of exclusion is not right and that we need to act to fix it.
WE CAN DO THIS.
We can change these unfair land use systems.
This will be hard but we have hope and motive ¦and so we act.