A few weekends ago some Westminster church members volunteered with Rebuilding Together Pittsburgh to renovate an elderly homeowner’s house in Homewood. It was a hands-on example of how our church makes a concrete difference in people’s lives locally.
Rebuilding Together Pittsburgh is an impactful nonprofit that works in select communities to make homes safer and healthier for low-income elderly or veteran homeowners, and last year completed repairs in over 150 homes. They allow seniors to age in place safely in a home and neighborhood they have lived in for decades.
On Saturday we got to meet Ms. Dorothy and along with 8 other volunteers from AT&T painted her basement, dining room, kitchen, bathroom, a large bedroom and the hallway stairs area. Earlier in the week roof repairs and plastering were done to stop water leaks and remedy wetness in her home. The basement paint we used actually waterproofed the concrete basement walls that had allowed water to come into the basement during heavy rains.
This work to make Ms. Dorothy’s home dryer, safer, brighter and more livable was important, not just as Christian witness and to demonstrate love for our neighbor, but also to help battle the affordable housing crisis in Pittsburgh. Her house is now safer, and the expensive and needed repairs were done for free for Ms. Dorothy so she is able to live there for many more years. If her house repairs became too much to do and the house became unlivable she would have most likely needed to leave. That would be a bad situation as finding an affordable rental or house to buy today for Ms. Dorothy would be very difficult for her as a low-income senior.
Pittsburgh is in a housing crisis as public and low income housing units are being razed and market rate units are replacing them. Affordable housing, as you may know, is usually considered to be paying 30% or less of household income on housing. A recent survey by the City of Pittsburgh found unsettling statistics: for renters there are only 34 units of affordable housing per 100 residents earning around 30% of Pittsburgh’s median household income (MHI). The MHI was $40,009 in 2014. Further, there were only 41 units of affordable housing per 100 residents earning 50% of MHI, and 75 units per 100 residents for those earning 80% of MHI. In total the study found that there was a shortage of almost 15,000 housing units for just those households earning 30% of MHI, not to mention other residents earning under the median household income in this area. The availability of affordable housing units for homeowners is better, but still not sufficient for the need, and there are other barriers for low-income residents to affordable homeownership.
There are plans and projects ongoing to address the large deficit in affordable housing in the Pittsburgh area but simply put, there is currently no way to solve the fact that so many affordable units are needed. That is why the work of Rebuilding Together Pittsburgh, Open Hand Ministries (who Westminster also supports), ACTION-Housing and others focused on affordable housing are critical to alleviate some of the housing shortfall and prevent more folks from desperately needing an affordable place to live.
Large problems like hunger, lack of good paying jobs, affordable housing and the ongoing challenges in Haiti do not solve themselves. Jesus calls us to love our neighbors and to put our faith into action to pursue social justice and healthier communities, for the common good of communities, families and individuals, especially those in need. I encourage you to get involved with challenges like affordable housing or hunger.
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