The Energy of Affordable Housing

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by Jim Wehner
 
One billion dollars. That’s the number Atlanta’s Mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms, has promised for public-private investment in affordable housing. What an exciting announcement for Atlanta! We have had a long-standing need for affordable housing, and those of us in the affordable housing world are excited to hear our top city official getting serious about this important issue. Kudos to Mayor Bottoms!

Like most major cities in the United States, the story of Atlanta can be told through its housing. FCS sees housing affordability as one of the key economic development tools in the fight to address poverty. It’s not that someone moves out of poverty simply by moving into a house. But with careful work, affordable homeownership can create positive ripple effects impacting individuals, families, and neighborhoods. Homeownership creates stability in families that can improve work performance and solidify school attendance for young students.

Looking back at the housing crisis of 2008 - 2011, we saw almost half of the homes in our focus neighborhood become vacant through foreclosure. It was difficult to watch neighbors moved out of their homes. As we worked to stem the tide of foreclosure and then to repair the newly vacant homes block-by-block, we began to discover another narrative.  

Our community was supported by a significant group of historic neighbors made up of those that owned their homes outright and those that had affordable homes created and sustained by Habitat for Humanity Atlanta and FCS. These opportunities for affordable home ownership allowed residents to navigate difficult times while staying in their homes.

At $150,000 per unit, $1 Billion will create just over 6,500 units of housing in Atlanta (1,000 units above the Atlanta Beltline goal of 5,500 affordable units). If applied well, these funds could create affordable housing connected to the Atlanta Beltline, which provides connectivity to city services and transportation for local families.

FCS is encouraged to see affordable housing taking center stage city-wide. In 2018, we are also excited to begin constructing new homes after spending the last several years renovating vacant ones. There is a great deal of energy around this significant need in our city, and for our team at FCS, many of us would say that affordable housing is a moral issue. Strong communities depend on rooted neighbors who are here to stay.

Of course, the $1 Billion has not been raised. It is a promise from our Mayor and a show of her commitment to affordable housing. In the meantime, with your help, FCS continues to develop sustainable homeownership opportunities. If you’re interested in creating affordable housing, we’d love for you to join this effort! We have two unique opportunities for giving. First, an investment fund helps us maintain the capital necessary to do this work. Your participation here helps our community by investing with FCS and earning a modest rate of return. To learn more, please contact me (jim@fcsministries.org). Secondly, our faith-based work requires a network of committed donors. If you would like to give to support our affordable housing work, please donate online.

It’s an exciting time for affordable housing in Atlanta. We’re grateful to work with you and our community to build a neighborhood that all residents are glad to call home. 
 

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A New Beginning at J’s

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by Jeff Delp

A grocery store, theater, sit-down restaurant, service station, billiard hall, beauty salon, and more. These are the businesses that lined the once-thriving commercial district of Historic South Atlanta along McDonough Blvd. This stretch of commerce was an important part of the African American experience in the first part of the 20th Century - right behind Auburn Avenue in significance. Unfortunately, only a few buildings from that era remain.

Two of those buildings exist at one of the main entry points of Historic South Atlanta. One is where Community Grounds and Carver Market reside, and the other building, a now abandoned gas station/convenience store once called Diamond J’s, is across the street. About two years ago, this property went up for sale. The family who owned the land and building had deep roots in the neighborhood at one time, and this gas station was part of that thriving commercial district. We saw an opportunity to expand upon the work of the market and coffee shop and decided to try to buy the property.  

For the past year, we’ve been in on again, off again negotiations to purchase J’s. At one point, a convenience store operator had the building under contract. Once that deal fell through, we had to do our due diligence and find out “what lies beneath” as we feared the gas tanks that have been idle for over twenty-five years may have leaked. And we had to come to terms with the agreement, which we felt was above market price, but for a property we strategically identified as vital to neighborhood transformation. Finally, in the last week of May - despite all the obstacles - we are happy to announce that we have closed on J’s!

Our story at this property is only just beginning. There’s lots of work to be done both in the building and under the ground. The proximity of the old gas station to the Atlanta Beltline opens up possibilities for us to work with both Invest Atlanta and the Atlanta Beltline Inc. in order to complete the required environmental clean-up on the property. Together, we are hoping to restore life back into this building and revive the story of flourishing that this property was once a part of and will be again. It’s also exciting that this entryway to our neighborhood will be able to demonstrate the true goodness at home in our community.

So what are we going to do with this new space? While we don’t have definite plans yet, we do have some specific hopes for the property’s next phase:

  1. To recreate the once thriving commercial corridor of Historic South Atlanta

  2. To offer affordable retail options that provide jobs, goods, and positive community space in the same vein as Community Grounds and Carver Market

  3. To be an example on the Atlanta Beltline of a neighborhood that can improve and grow while keeping long-standing residents who are also enjoying the new amenities thanks to housing work through FCS and Habitat for Humanity

  4. To attract a local entrepreneur with neighborhood ties to help bring our vision to reality

FCS has a long tradition of taking old buildings and breathing new life into them with the communities we serve. Many of you reading this have participated with us through the years with spaces such as GlenCastle, The Gateway Building, and now, we hope, J’s. We can’t wait for you to come and experience this new place - one we hope will lead you into the neighborhood and the beauty that exists inside South Atlanta!

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Back to Basics

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By Bob Lupton

Decisions, decisions, decisions. How was this little band of uneducated, ecclesiastically inexperienced disciples going to organize a global religious movement (a Kingdom, the Master had called it), one that would reach to the ends of the earth? And yet, it was their responsibility. Sort of. But it wouldn’t be as simple as collecting signatures and tallying membership rolls.

Supernatural things had been occurring. There were powerful forces at work way beyond the apostles’ experience or control. Like what had happened unexpectedly at the Feast of Pentecost – the deafening roar of a mighty wind, tongues of fire that appeared to land on the disciples, mysterious languages that allowed all the foreign visitors to hear in their native dialects, and hundreds (maybe thousands) of Jews spontaneously embracing the message of the risen Messiah. Inexplicable happenings! How would eleven ill-equipped leaders ever organize and manage such a mysterious movement?

Decisions, decisions, decisions. Who was in charge? Peter? A three-man leadership team? A committee of twelve? Who would replace Judas? How would they select his replacement? Draw straws? Vote? And where would they set up headquarters? Galilea where it was safer, where they owned some real estate? Or Jerusalem, perilous epi-center of Jewish political and religious life? It was all happening so fast!  

As if things weren’t complicated enough, a zealous fellow by the name of Saul, a rising star in the Temple establishment, was making a name for himself by harassing Christ-followers. His menacing attacks were making the political climate increasingly tense for Christ followers, actually life-threatening. Then mysteriously, the young fanatic was struck down blind, had a dramatic spiritual conversion, and became a devout believer in Jesus.

He changed his name to Paul and became a zealous evangelist to (of all people) the gentiles! And he was quite successful at it. Of course, this influx of “unclean” converts only added to the confusion of the fledgling church. Debates raged over who could join the movement.

Some argued that since the gift of the Holy Spirit was also being given to non-Jews, this was a sure sign that God was welcoming “unclean” members into this new Kingdom. Other strong voices demanded that gentiles must first convert to the Jewish faith before being accepted as full-fledged Kingdom members. This was, after all, a Jewish movement and Jesus was the Jewish Messiah.    

The issue became serious enough to convince apostles Peter and James to call for a high-level meeting of the leadership of the extended church. It was billed as the Council of Jerusalem.   

The purists at the council were resolute in their conviction that all believers must embrace Orthodox Judaism - circumcision, dietary laws, purification rites, Sabbath observance, temple tithes… the works. Others contended that adherence to such burdensome rituals and rules was totally unnecessary. The debate was long and loud. But in the end, it was finally agreed that the non-Jewish believers would be exempt from most Jewish religious practices. There were, however, three essentials everyone agreed upon: (1) don’t eat meat offered to idols, (2) eat only kosher meat, and (3) abstain from fornication.  

That was it. The three most important non-negotiables of the early church. Not the inerrancy of scripture, not the doctrine of the Trinity, not predestination. Just two dietary restrictions and a prohibition against sexual impurity. I guess you had to be there to understand how these three issues were deemed to be bedrock essentials.

Actually, when you think about it, these were hardly tangential issues. They went to the very heart of the essentials Christ Himself had taught. (1) The Great Command was about loving God first and foremost, which surely meant avoiding any sort of idol worship (including the support of their temple meat-markets). (2) The New Command Jesus gave His disciples emphasized the importance of loving each other, subordinating their preferences, even laying down their very lives for one another. Serving kosher food when dining with Jewish church members was a very sensitive way to show respect and honor their conscience. (3) And sexual fidelity has everything to do with integrity in relationships, faithfulness to one’s spouse, harmonious life in the Body.

No, these “non-negotiables” were not peripheral matters. They may even have relevance to the Western church of the 21st century.

Avoid idol worship – Do we really need to explain to the wealthiest, most materialistic, most self-indulgent church in the 2000+ years of church history the importance of this prohibition?  

Practice “kosher” relationships – If we were subordinating our cultural tastes and doctrinal preferences as the New Command instructs, Sunday morning would probably not be the most segregated hour of our week. Enough said.

Sexual fidelity – The divorce rate among Christians and non-Christians in our culture is approximately the same.  

Suppose it’s time for another Jerusalem Council to reinstate some bedrock basics of what it means to behave as Christians? 

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