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The latest news and perspective from the Director of Urban Homeworks
…“Why do you treat your servants like this? No straw is given to your servants, yet they say to us, ‘Make bricks!’ And behold, your servants are beaten; but the fault is in your own people.” But he said, “You are idle, you are idle; that is why you say, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to the Lord.’ Go now and work. No straw will be given you, but you must still deliver the same number of bricks.”-Pharaoh, Exodus 5:15-18
I was in a meeting this week. It was a board meeting (not a UHW board meeting… ahem… ;-)). It was filled with committed and influential friends/colleagues/supporters. We entered into a well-intended conversation when some of the following soundbites started fly’n:
“We must get better results and more impact with the current level of resources”.
“Resources are shrinking.”
“It’s really hard to get new money from source X, or funder Y. It’s better we focus our energy on doing more with less.”
“More with less.” More with less. More with less. More bricks. Less resources. More houses. Less money. More jobs. Less investment. More, more, more with less, less, less…
“More with less” is the command from Pharaoh…. Or it is at least, “maintain your production with less”. But, let’s just say “more with less” because it rings in the ear with a little more resonance than “maintain…” You see, we’re entering into a unique time right now… We’re climbing out of a housing crisis – where for 7-8 years, we saw hundreds of thousands of foreclosures, we saw housing prices plummet, we saw the government combat economic collapse by pouring funding into stabilizing neighborhoods (neighborhood stabilization programs) and we, as an organization that uses housing as a lever to build power with our neighbors, moved as quickly, as efficiently, and as innovatively as possible to take every one of those dollars and put it back in the hands of our community (many times with by sheer grit and determination).
Now, we’re seeing a recovery. But I use that word loosely, because that “recovery” is benefitting some more than others. Recovery for whom? Political will to fund and reclaim the 1202x more vacant, and foreclosed, and generally uninhabitable homes that still pain our neighborhoods has significantly diminisheded and our neighborhoods’ vacancy rate is still at a historic low while habitable homes have a vacancy rate of less than 2%. Super low.
I’ve gotta say – “maintaining” a status quo where my neighbors walk past too many vacant properties to experience a minimum of 3 years wait for housing doesn’t sit so well with me… and now we’re being asked to do so “more with less”. When this notion of “more with less” is articulated in any of its multitude of ways (and so frequently these days), I begin to wonder if it’s not a signal that we are in a type of slavery…that we’re back in Egypt. And that there may be pools of excess being held on to in the face of scarcity..
This all didn’t come out of my board meeting, but what the board meeting did was bring me back to the ‘ole Exodus liberation story. The Exodus liberation story reminded me that God promises that there IS ENOUGH. And I want to challenge myself and my community by asking the question – is it time for us to reexamine what enough looks like in each of our lives? To identify where it is that we may be holding on to too much, where we may be able to give MORE, so that together we can DO more (not just “maintain” with less)? Could this be our time, again, to step in and demonstrate the power of our collective decision to reexamine our standard of living?
I want to drown “more with less” in the “Red Sea” of “Enough” and enter the journey toward the “promised land” that flows with “milk and honey” together. I want to encourage us to land on enough… enough for everyone… not too much… but enough (and I’ll bet there will be leftovers!)
Thank you for having the courage to examine and wrestle over these questions with us, to so faithfully participate with an effort, team, and family of residents that are doing everything possible to realize more stability,
more hope, more of God’s “kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven”!
Toward Enough. Cheers…
(Chad, Executive Director at UHW, wrote this note to the Urban Homeworks team as we celebrate the work of Martin Luther King Jr.)
“We must re-member a dis-membered past…” (loose quote of Ched Myers).
This is a weekend to re-member. This last weekend we re-member some of the stories and narratives that have risen out of the civil rights movement – especially as they relate to Martin Luther King.
I encourage you to take the dis-membered past that lies in parts and pieces around us and re-member them into a more whole and real story. I encourage you to do some work. It is this story that gives us the analysis through which to view our current conditions. It is this story that resonates with the stories of scripture. It is this story that helps us lament and grieve and grow. It is this story that helps us see and hear and be emboldened and encouraged. It is in a more full and robust story that we can find and pursue hope.
“Memory is always political” (Ched again). The stories that get told verses the stories that get sold and those that left in the cold of silence—re-membering is political. Take some time to dig. Take some time to re-member what has been dis-membered by historic amnesia.
Thank you for all you do in pursuit of love and justice. Justice, as Cornell West says, is what “love looks like in public”. MLK talked about “negative peace” verses “positive peace” in his Letter from Birmingham Jail. Negative peace meaning the absence of tension. Positive peace meaning the presence of justice. (if you haven’t read this letter before, or it’s been some time… I commend it to you for this week’s reflections.)
We are about perpetuating the Hope of Jesus Christ. We are about perpetuating positive peace… perpetuating public love: justice. To re-membering a history that has suffered so much dis-membering. To re-membering the shoulders upon which we stand. To hope!
For the past few months, we have been hearing what is on the hearts and minds of Urban Homeworks’ Director team. For Jess Mueller, our Director of Development and Marketing, the face to face reality of the work being done at Urban Homeworks feeds her belief in the mission.
Yesterday morning started off like the others. I dropped my kids off, watched them run into Ascension Catholic School with one skirt on backward and all shoes untied, and drove away feeling exhausted… at 7am. In spite of that, the 3 block drive to from there to the Urban Homeworks office hit me differently that morning.
In the first block, I drove past Families Moving Forward - a non-profit that exists to help families in emergency transitional situations. The families meet in their office, busses take them to local church basements, they set up sleeping bags and get ready for bed. They wake up to be bussed back to the office where parents use any available resources to find a more permanent situation. As I drove past, several parents were loading their kids into taxis to send them off to school.
That reality woke me up. A number of historical, social, and economic circumstances have left me equipped and with resources to provide stability for my kids – to be honest, my biggest problem is making sure the kids eat all of their breakfast. Many of the parents we are walking beside are coming from situations where they are sleeping in a different house, on a different couch, surrounded by different people for months on end. My exhaustion is nothing in comparison.
But… on the next block, I drove past three beautiful Urban Homeworks properties. I know that eight families live there. I know that it’s likely they’ve experienced long-term stability. In fact, I know that it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that at least one of them is moving toward home ownership.
And then, finally, at the end of that 3-block continuum, there sits a run-down multi-unit building. I’m never certain whether it’s habitable or has been sitting vacant for too long. What I do know, is that we are sitting in the space which allows for action and change. Working at Urban Homeworks brings me face to face with opportunities to rebuild a block and reclaim hope...so more families are dealing with the regular exhaustion of parenting instead of the uncertainty of instability.
As we hurtle toward the end of the year, you can join me in fueling the hope of families. You are unleashing new hope for individuals needing that bolster of support.
I am from a sandbox, treehouse, and a 3010 John Deere pick’n rock;
I am from 3-wheelers and 22 caliber rifles popping off bird-shot (to manage the sparrow population of course) in air pregnant with soil and sugar beet residue signaling fall;
I am from flat-lands, prairie-country, from rises and falls of the sun and the emergence of weather on the horizon so magnificent I’ve wept.
I am from Adaline, Janice, and Sheila… the legacy of a women present, persistent, powerful and purposeful;
I am from Sunday night song services and “our father, who art in heaven”, “I believe in God the Father Almighty”, Zig Ziglar, Earl Nightingale, Vic Conant, and where “you little shits” was a phrase of endearment;
I’m from “sauce” from the fruit room, soaked raisins on ham, and where the presence of pickled herring was the sign of a superb affair;
I am from uncles and aunts roaring with laughter and retelling the same old stories on a Sunday afternoon after church… and the silent hope that those stories tickle my grandchildrens’ ears someday…
Where I’m from isn’t where I AM. I am here.
I am here to build upon, learn from but not be defined by where I’m from. I am here to live into the best version of myself in such a way that allows and encourages you to live into the best version of yourself. I am here to work toward growth, betterness, and fullness for all of us and especially those of us struggling with scarcity.
I am here rooted by faith and I am here living into the richness of community and life.
I am here out of being shaped, sometimes forged, honed, invest in, and transformed by the past 16 years this work and life has had upon me. I am here better… than when I came… from where I’m from. I am from a rich and beautiful people and place. I’m here to live into an even more beautiful people and place.
Last year I talked about courage and invited you to take courage with me and this team to courageously do what needs to be done. This year I’m inviting you to Feast. I’m inviting you to dance.
I’m guilty of talking about this work as a ‘struggle’, and ‘a fight’… and there are certainly struggles and fights along the way, but it’s MORE than that. I’m changing my language in order to elicit a more whole and accurate idea of what we are working toward: I’m inviting you to a grand pot-luc feast, where we all have something to give, and we all have something to receive… AND, there is ENOUGH for everyone…
This is beyond a struggle and a fight, this is a sliver of living a real, genuine, authentic, and deep life.
I find it encouraging that I’m not the only one that needs to be reminded of picking my language carefully. As Emma Goldberg said: “if I can’t dance, it isn’t my revolution!” Instead of talking about the ‘margins’ I’m going to talk about the ‘horizons’. Instead of talking about issues surrounding racially concentrated areas of poverty, I’m going to talk about the issues triggered by racially concentrated areas of wealth. Instead of allowing my faith to be unconsciously defined by a socio-economic political stance, maybe, just maybe I can define my socio-economic political stance through the lens of kindred embrace that’s illuminated by faith.
I think the old Prophet Isaiah cautiously shaped his call toward images of beauty and fullness about 2500 years ago, here’s a cliff-noted version of Chapter 58: What I'm interested in seeing you do is: sharing your food with the hungry, inviting the homeless poor into your homes, putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad, being available to your own families…. 9-12"If you get rid of unfair practices, quit blaming victims, quit gossiping about other people's sins, If you are generous with the hungry and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out, Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness, your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight. You'll be like a well-watered garden, a gurgling spring that never runs dry. You'll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew, rebuild the foundations from out of your past. You'll be known as those who can fix anything, restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate, make the community livable again.
I’m from 7060, 120th Avenue SE, Clara City, MN and I’m also from 5151 Humboldt Avenue North, Minneapolis, MN. Both have prepared me for this moment… to perpetuate the Hope of Jesus Christ by Restoring Place, Reconnecting People, Realizing our power to build upon the past 20 years so that in 20 years from now, a 1000 people could stand here and recite a poem something like this…
I am from the Northside/Southside/Frogtown/The East-Side…
I am from a time back in 2015 when my neighbors of color were 23% more unemployed, 29% more likely to experience poverty, 16% more cost burdened, $35,000 less in average household income, 18% less likely to graduate, experienced 14% more crime, 7% of our housing stock MORE vacant, and… AND
100% committed to betterness.
I’m from the Northside, with effective tools at my disposal, like Urban Homeworks, that over the past 20 years has helped me:
Stabilize my housing, Move me to homeownership, build some personal wealth while localizing the economic benefits, SO THAT I can meaningfully participate in shaping my future and the future of my community.
I am from a community that saw our assets, realized our power, reached out our hands to willing partners, and now, 20 years later can even more proudly say that I am from the Northside…
I am from a community that is like a well-watered garden, a gurgling spring that never runs dry.
I am from a people that used the old rubble of past lives to build anew, rebuild the foundations from out of your past.
I am from a place where we’re known as those who can fix anything, restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate,
I am from the Northside.
I grew up in a tight knit community, and I can still close my eyes and see the majority of our neighbors, and call them by name. I was chastised by other adults on the block (when I had it coming), I knew it was safe to go next door and help my neighbor in the yard, we played kickball on the corner, and when we needed a new retaining wall the community came out and helped us build it. It was a community where I experienced “community engagement” before I even knew there was such a thing.
This community is North Minneapolis.
Here I am years later, and I still get to enjoy the things that I did as a child. On the community engagement team we get to talk to neighbors, and hear their stories. We get to participate in the successes, failures, struggles, and triumphs of our neighbors. We see the real story, of the hard working people in the community that, despite the systemic disparities they face daily, they still love the community in which they live. Despite the narrative that paints this community as unworthy, as unsafe, uneducable, and unemployable, the Community Engagement team can tell you that is not the truth. We live and work in a community that has its challenges but, is still the same community that is tight knit, loving, helpful, and compassionate.
It is community engagement's priority to challenge the prevailing negative narrative in North Minneapolis, and bring forth the real stories of this beautiful part of the city.