A friend forwarded a New York Times article to me yesterday that disturbed her greatly. I only finished reading it this morning (it is quite long), and I, too, am greatly disturbed. Affordable housing/accessible housing/livable housing has been heavy in my thoughts for several years now, and this article seems to illustrate so clearly how the American drive for wealth (especially in the realm of corporations) creates a tsunami of injustice that ends up swallowing so many of those unfortunate enough to exist at the lower end of the economic hierarchy.
As Christians, I believe we are responsible to fight injustice–ALL injustice–as we encounter it. The problem comes when we live inside such comfortable bubbles that we rarely directly encounter injustice, especially at a personal level. Or when we do, we have enough power at our disposal (whether that be our financial resources, our white privilege, our personal connections, our education level and/or job status, or even our own sense of self worth and entitlement) to fight back in an effective way. We live blind to the injustice in our own communities and beyond.
And so God sends us prophets. Voices that are willing to testify to the injustices around us. Servants to the poor who amplify their cries until they are loud enough for us to hear them. Leaders from among the oppressed to rally us to their cause.
We need to listen!
We need to join in solidarity!
We need to repent of our blindness, to redirect our resources and to sacrifice some of our privilege!
We need to ask Jesus to give us his compassion.
So today I am sharing this article and hoping many will read it all the way through and consider what our individual roles might be in helping to alleviate the kind of anonymous, greed-inspired injustice at play in the American housing/rental market.
I am also going to briefly share one possible way to fight this injustice on an individual level: Instead of buying a bigger home, buy a rental and become a landlord in the name of Jesus.
I’ll elaborate by telling you my story. A year ago, my husband and I cashed out on an investment and bought a foreclosed home. We fixed the home up (including a brand new AC) and rented it out at a significantly reduced rate to an ex-felon who, despite a steady job, could not find a place to live due to his inability to pass a background check.
My husband had wanted to do this for years. He spent much of the past decade leading a weekly Bible study in a felony pod at the county jail and had watched men come to know Christ, get sent off to prison, and then come back at the end of their sentences only to find they were completely locked out from successfully reentering society. Even if they could find a job, they had to live as vagrants depending for a place to sleep on the mercy of relatives, if they had any, or paying exorbitant motel fees since no one would rent to them.
The process of buying a rental home has shown me a couple of things. First of all, I learned that the kind of mass corporate ownership of lower income rental properties described in the Jared Kushner article is happening all over the place. Even in my fairly small community, out-of-town investment firms have snatched up most of the rental properties so that renters deal with an impersonal, non-local entity rather than an individual. Secondly, I have been increasingly shocked by both the condition and the monthly rent for the many run-down properties around my city.
Simultaneously, I have been become increasingly aware of my El Crucero children’s poor living conditions: extended family groups (often 8 or more people) living together in less than 400 square feet, roach and rat-infested apartments that are rented out with no appliances, no air conditioning (not even window units), holes in the walls, busted-out windows, concrete floors. We already had made a promise to a particular renter when we bought our rental house, but there are soooo many others I know who need a decent and affordable place to live.
And yet I watch my peers all buying bigger and nicer houses. And my heart starts wanting a bigger, nicer house, too.
So I force myself to remember where my El Crucero children live. I think about how much rent they pay and how poorly their properties are maintained and how they have no other options. And I pray that by the grace of God, I will consider their needs more important than my desires.