by Jim Wehner
Housing is a major component in community development. Having spaces that families can call home is an important piece of building flourishing communities.
Sustainable housing anchors a family into a community and stabilizes other areas of life such as schools and jobs. Admittedly, these all work together to strengthen a family, but at FCS we believe housing is a great place to start.
In the last 35 years, FCS has completed more than 350 homes through our housing ministry, Charis Community Housing. If you or your organization is considering getting into housing, there are some questions you should consider first. Here are 5 questions to ask before jumping into housing ministry:
#1 - Who is with me?
This may seem odd for a first question, but we regularly get questions from people that have little experience in the fields of renovation and property management. A housing initiative without the proper skills and experts can easily do more harm than good or collapse altogether.
When we were reworking our housing process in 2008, we gathered a team of real estate agents, contractors, residential and commercial developers, Real Estate attorneys, and property managers to support the work. This visionary group helped us develop a professional business model for sustainable housing work. Letting experts speak into your vision will add strength and sustainability over the long run.
#2 - Who are we trying to serve?
Of course, from our perspective, we want you to focus on the neighborhood you are serving. The neighborhood itself and the people living there will help create your solution to this question.
Many well-intentioned ministries go off the rails because they brought services or resources into a community based on their own ideas of what was needed. Including and listening to the neighborhood may actually shift what you intend to do. For instance, an underserved neighborhood that has a high percentage of substandard rental housing may benefit more from a healthy homeownership program than more rental housing.
#3 - What is the type of housing am I providing?
Conversations with neighbors will help you answer this question. It’s important to recognize the different work involved in preparing rental homes versus rehabbing single family homes for first-time home buyers.
Your team of experts can help you evaluate what the community needs in context of what you may be able to provide in that arena.
#4 - How can I apply good business sense?
Housing is not an arena where you can “wing it.” You will need solid acquisition and construction budgets to ensure that you can actually complete the project you begin. The last thing any ministry wants to do is leave an abandoned, half-built house in the community.
You should also put together a lease now. It will help you to have clear guidelines going in when you are working with renters in the neighborhood.
#5 - Do I have what it takes?
Providing housing in an urban community is not for the faint of heart. The paperwork is substantial, and the people-work is just as important.
But it is a valuable gift and resource to the people in the neighborhood. Make sure you have the stamina and the support to go the distance!