Chat with Chad
The latest news and perspective from the Director of Urban Homeworks
The following is a transcript of Executive Director, Chad Schwitters' challenge and vision shared at Urban Homeworks' annual Perpetuate the Hope 2016 Luncheon.
My name is Chad Schwitters and for 17 years I’ve had the privilege of working shoulder-to-shoulder with a wonderfully resourceful, gritty, potent and passionate group of people, thank you ALL for contributing, sponsoring, and walking with us as we pursue the Positive Presence of Peace.
I feel compelled to answer the question “Why?”
Why are we here? Why Urban Homeworks? Why this work and this mission?
Here is why: Because we have the audacity to believe that we can actually hand over a world to our children that’s a little better than the one we inherited. We are here together because we actually believe it is possible.
We are bold enough to hope… and courageous enough to act toward this vision of betterness.
I see two primary perspectives on how this plays out. One of them is to work for the absence of something. The absence of conflict, the absence of violence, the absence of poverty and guns… The other is to work toward the presence of something—the presence of justice, love, and the presence of enough.
The “absence of conflict” has become synonymous with the definition of “Peace.” I want things to be “peaceful” and maintain an environment that is void of tension and conflict. It is a…”Can’t we all just get along?” strategy. The problem with this ”strategy” is that it glosses over the root injustices causing the tension and conflict in the first place and, in effect, maintains an unjust status quo. Sometimes I just want a little Peace—because the Justice pill can be too hard to swallow.
We, at UHW, are done working for the absence of conflict as a definition of Peace that depends on an unjust status quo. Instead, we are working toward the
Positive Presence of Justice. Justice as a state of being where there is a “presence of wellness for all people.” We are working toward a neighborhood, city and world as it “ought to” and “should” be.
We are working toward a Positive Presence of Justice that allows everyone, as activist Bryan Stevenson said: “...to be more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.” A Positive Presence of Justice that doesn’t lock David and countless others out of housing and jobs and opportunity for the rest of their lives simply because they’d been locked up. One that excludes those who have served their time—who have repaid their debt to a society that refuses to forgive them.
We are working toward a Positive Presence of Justice that stops victimizing the victims of domestic violence. A presence of justice that keeps Tira and her family and many more like her—safe and stable and holds violent bullies accountable for their actions.
We are working toward a Positive Presence of Justice where there is healthy housing for all of us. Housing that makes us more and more healthy, not sick. We are working toward a Positive Presence of Justice where a family can be SUPPORTED when tragedy strikes, not thrown into a financial meat-grinder.
We are working toward a Positive Presence of Justice that humanizes people across social and economic lines. One that places the destinies of David Morris, and Pat Ryan, and Tira Smith and You and Me in the same room, at the same time, more often giving us each the chance to give and to receive.
We are working toward a Positive Presence of Justice as described by the Prophet Isaiah: "If you get rid of unfair practices, quit blaming victims, 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, … You'll be known as those who can fix anything, restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate, make the community livable again."
We are working toward THIS kind of Justice because it is BETTER than working toward the absence of things. We will come up with better solutions that better address the core injustices leading to better places for people to live better lives.
The primary tool we use at UHW to lever up of this kind of justice is housing. Housing is just a tool. It is a foundational tool. It is a primary tool, but it is only a tool.
Housing provides a platform. It provided a platform for David Morris to get some training, land a job, and to grunge around in a basement and strike a friendship with Pat Ryan. It provided a platform for Pat Ryan to offer David a new opportunity and for a chance to invest in more housing to provide more platforms for people to stand upon.
The homes that the Urban Homeworks' Loan Pool finances (and Pat Ryan and others of you are participating in) has created more places and better platforms, one of which Tira and Randy are using to weather some storms and navigate some unexpected turns in life. It is a platform she is using to stand upon and take the next step toward homeownership—it is a platform upon which she is getting involved in POD council and community leadership.
People are using the stability and safety of their housing as a platform to connect, build relationships, dream out loud, and get to work!
Out of the 226 rental and ownership homes, 120 households are participating in community connectivity and relationship building programs through Urban Homeworks’ Community Engagement Initiatives. Out of that 120 households, 15 people have become involved in the leadership development of the POD Council. They have taken advantage of leadership trainings and education and have gotten involved in non-profit board leadership, neighborhood group board seats and committees, and have been working to get 1,000 of their neighbors in their PODS trained, confident and comfortable when they vote in November.
Of the 15, a few are looking to act as change agents throughout our city, becoming better and better prepared to practice leadership on boards, commissions and are positioning to learn and adapt so that they can play more and more meaningful roles in elected, staff, and executive posts.
This is ONE dimension of how Urban Homeworks’ housing becomes a platform for people to discover and express their power—to discover and leverage their ability to effect change.
For 100 people to emerge as Tira and Jackie and Jasmine and Carl and others have emerged, it will take 1,000 more homes.
1000 stabilized or new units would mean:
• $37,000,000 per year of household income,
• $3,000,000 per year of real estate taxes,
• about $43,000,000 per year injected into the school system to educate our kids,
• over 1,000 construction jobs,
• and over 200 jobs in the school system to accommodate the kids that are now in the neighborhood.
Let me put this 1,000 stabilized/new homes into context, because even 1,000 units isn’t enough: The Twin Cities Local Initiatives Support Corporation and the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs at the U put out a report that said that JUST ON THE NORTHSIDE, we have housing stock that contains 1,202 MORE VACANT units than on average in the rest of the city. These are generally uninhabitable homes in the face of a vacancy rate under 1%.
When we finish these 1,000 units, we will have not yet made progress—but will only be approaching parity with the rest of the city.
Housing is a lever—a platform to create jobs. Jobs in the construction, the management, the maintenance… Jobs created by the businesses in the community that thrive as more disposable income is bouncing around the neighborhood. Jobs in the school system, and the ancillary services revolving around education. Housing IS Jobs—it is not either/or—it just is.
All we need to do now, is raise about $100,000,000.
Sounds like a lot of money—but consider this:
• We could do this EVERY YEAR with a 2 tenths of 1% increase in the metro sales tax…
• One time if the biggest eight private foundations in Minnesota committed 1% of their corpus;
• Five times for the public tax spent on the brand- spankin’ new Vikings stadium;
• 57 times EVERY YEAR if Minnesotan’s gave 10% instead of 4.1%;
This is not an issue of scarce resources, ya’ll. This is squarely and without question an issue of Will.
We are going to focus on 100 change agents in 1,000 units by 2026, and we are going to do all we can build the WILL to deliver – AND WE NEED YOU.
As Desmond Tutu said: "Do your little bit of good where you are; it is those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world."
Toward that end, I want to invite you to join us and do your bit of good with us and the mission of Urban Homeworks. Thank you for coming, thank you for listening, and thank you for joining us.
- Click HERE to read/watch Pat Ryan's powerful apology...
- Click HERE to read/watch David Morris's journey from homelessness at age 10 to thriving at 29...
- Stay tuned for Tira Smith's story and update by signing up for our enews: Click here!
Since issuing a statement a few weeks ago ("Dear Friends, Family, Community..." - read below), we have been profoundly inspired by the active pursuit of peace that is radically evident in the lives of our neighbors and the ever-emerging voices in our community. Our neighbors have used the platform that housing and stability has created to launch new and creative movements and discussions together – this leadership is felt in our neighborhoods.
THIS is the “pursuit of peace” that gives us hope:
• Urban Homeworks Homeowner, Nikki McComb’s “Enough” Campaign
• Urban Neighbors gathering to hear from Jason Sole, Minneapolis NAACP criminal justice reform chair, Criminal justice educator (Metro State, Hamline), author of “From Prison to Ph.D.”
• UHW Volunteers stepping in to mow lawns in support of grieving families (read the story HERE)
• Our friends at Pillsbury United Communities’ “Art Is My Weapon” gun buy-back campaign
• The 1,000 neighbors that Urban Homeworks’ residents have been door-knocking and registering to vote
The list could go on. And it will go on.
Thank you for the way you lead, thank you for seeing home as a platform for people to catalyze community change. Thank you for being willing to dig deeper with me into what it looks like for peace to truly reign in our lives and in our neighborhoods.
Dear Friends, Family, Community,
Thoughts and prayers to the Castile Family. Thoughts and prayers to the families of the officers in Dallas. Thoughts and prayers for us, to be delivered from the condition we've found ourselves in as a people, a condition so addicted to violent domination that babies die in our streets. God help us…
I’m done working for “peace.”
Let me be clear on just a couple of distinctions:
Peace DOES NOT EQUAL Justice
Conflict DOES NOT EQUAL Violence
“Law and Order” IS NOT THE SAME as “Protect and Serve”
I’m done working for a “peace” that is primarily defined as an “absence of conflict.”
This kind of “peace” can be achieved by force, supremacy, and domination. Overpowering a community with law enforcement as a way to “make peace” in a community through more aggressive application of “Law and Order.” It is domineering, and it does not address the fundamental injustices that are feeding the anger, anxiety, frustration and fear. It doesn’t do anything to work toward justice. It does nothing to build trust. Working for this kind of “peace” is just treating symptoms instead of confronting the underlying disease and most likely confusing the symptoms for the disease.
I’m done working for a “peace” that keeps us from having the real debate.
There needs to be some serious conflict—but that does not mean there needs to be violence. The call for non-violent protest and debate goes to both the community AND Police. Put the damn guns away.
I’m done working for a “peace” that practices avoidance.
The bottom line is that “power does not give up power without a struggle.” There will be struggle. There will be conflict. There will be friction. Movement toward justice has ALWAYS caused friction, tension, struggle and conflict. The Laws of Thermodynamics say that movement creates friction and friction creates heat. Any kind of movement—physical, intellectual, emotional, social—will create some friction and that friction will generate some heat. How shall we employ that heat? Constructively? Destructively?
I’m done working for a “peace” that is built on the foundations of denial.
Denying the brutal facts. Denying peoples’ real experiences. Denying peoples’ humanity. Denying a person’s LIFE.
I’m done working for a “peace” that “polarizes all understanding.”
A “peace” that suggests if I’m for X, then I’m against Y. If I’m against police brutality and willing to fight against the fact that people of color are far more likely to be pulled over, arrested, charged, and convicted, incarcerated and killed by police than white people, THEN somehow that makes me anti-police. I’m not anti-police. I’m all for “protect and serve,” and asset-based-community-policing. I’m tired of the violent, dehumanizing effects of the “Law and Order” regime.
I’m done working for a “peace” that is achieved by the “absence of conflict.”
One that maintains the status quo of injustice and oppression. I’m going to work for a JUSTICE where there is a “presence of wellness” for all people: a state where the world is as it ‘ought to be.’
I AM READY...
...to work tirelessly, boldly, and with great hope for the “presence of justice,” and if that elicits some conflict… then so be it.
Let’s talk. Let’s say their names. Let’s pursue Peace.
I think my dad once said: “I never give into peer pressure--- I just do whatever my friends tell me to do”. Or, maybe it was from a movie. All I know is that I didn’t come up with it :)
Anyway, I got an email from one of my professors at Bethel saying that I HAVE to read this book titled Shalom: The Bibles Word for Salvation, Justice, and Peace by Perry B. Yoder. So, in protest of peer pressure, I immediately went online and ordered it, just like my friend told me to do. It is from this book I plant within you with this quote:
“We are tempted at times to think of peacekeeping as maintaining the status quo without conflict. But our study of Shalom shows us that peacekeeping is whitewashing when we think we can have peace in spite of oppression, exploitation, and unjust laws. To maintain a situation of oppression, material want, and deceit about the way things are is not to keep peace, but is to do the opposite! Shalom making means transforming these situations into ones of fairness, equality, and justice. Shalom demands transformation not façade!”
By being a part of this mission and work at UHW, my friends, you are working shoulder-to-shoulder on some real transformative justice—Shalom… right here… right now… together. No peer pressure… but as a friend I’m telling you that this is core stuff and to go read this book.
(PS: I’m only on chapter 4... so if you’ve read the whole thing, don’t tell me how it ends!)
And don't miss this transformative story highlighting some of our closest friends and system-changers...Click here: More Mayo Please.
…“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!