Recently our church’s Community Development Corporation (CDC)’s efforts were called into question by a board of works member and a local reporter because the first four homes we rehabilitated in the north end of our town were eventually purchased by people associated with Faith. This is a very fair question and we always welcome public scrutiny of all our efforts. We understand that as followers of Jesus Christ we are held to a high standard of honesty and integrity and we accept the responsibility to glorify Him in everything we say and do.
In this case the answer is simple — we have done and will continue to do everything in our power to let our community know about our home renovation program and invite interested people to apply. But because of the federal guidelines associated with this program, the pool of potential buyers who qualify in a town our size is relatively low. Finding such persons who are also willing to move into distressed neighborhoods has proven to be our greatest challenge.
The four families willing to take this step should be commended and they are having a delightful time getting to know their new north-end neighbors. They were not shown preferential treatment in any way. To deny them the opportunity to participate because of their church affiliation would have been a violation of the very federal guidelines we are expected to uphold.
Suggesting that we have not operated with transparency is simply untrue. The Journal and Courier itself has published feature articles about our projects and given clear information about how to contact us. We place oversized signage in the yards of each home for months on end. Our Executive Director who has sacrificed greatly for this program has visited dozens of businesses, factories, and local civic groups to identify qualified buyers. We are happy to learn as many lessons as possible as we seek to improve the way we serve our town but insinuating that we have not tried to advertise this program simply does not match the facts.
I am sure some will suggest we should just step away from urban redevelopment because as one wag observed, too often no good deed goes unpunished. However, our commitment to serving people in our city’s north end is stronger than ever for a variety of reasons.
First, we love the privilege of making new friendships. The north end has a rich tapestry of people, many who wake up every morning to make their part of town a better place. Most of them love what we are doing and often thank us for renovating distressed houses that were too far gone to be of interest to homebuyers or regular investors. The joy of working alongside our north-end neighbors and making a positive difference together far outweighs the pain of an imbalanced newspaper article.
Second, we love serving our city government which has such a passion to be sure that everyone in Lafayette has access to clean, safe, affordable housing. The reason Faith was asked to start a CDC was because federal funds were being left on the table because the previous entity doing this work was no longer able to do so. Our mayor and his staff care deeply about continually improving every corner of our town. Serving our city fits right in the sweet spot of our understanding of what it means to love our neighbors.
Third, it is enjoyable to me as a pastor to watch our teenagers, young adults, senior citizens and everyone in-between work on these houses together. These projects require a tremendous amount of sweat equity but we believe it is good for our members to get outside the walls of our church and find ways to be a blessing to others.
Lastly, we are thankful for the many other generous people who have joined this effort. The article failed to mention that well over a million dollars of private funds have already been given to these urban revitalization efforts. One local philanthropist outside our church recently gave us another two hundred thousand dollars because his family wants to share what God has given them with others in need. As a result we are planning to break ground on several new projects in the next few weeks. Seeing people come together to serve one another is a beautiful sight to behold.
As the newspaper also recently reported, we are really just on the front end of our urban revitalization efforts. We are also dreaming of working together with a number of other non-profit groups to bring a state of the art community center to the north end of town. We envision a shopping center of non-profit organizations collaborating together under the same roof to provide cutting edge programs and services to some of the most challenged areas of our community. We are especially interested in connecting with urban teens, young adults, families in distress, veterans, and senior citizens. We don’t know if such a project will ever become a reality, but it is fun to dream about seeking greater synergy where together we accomplish more.
Our hope is that the upshot of the newspaper’s article will be increased exposure of the availability of these CDC houses to qualified buyers. Why not consider joining our efforts in the north end? It’s a great place now and we believe it is going to get nothing but better in the days ahead.