Counting the Cost

by Cynthia McNeal on


“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won't you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?” Jesus may have laid out this saying in Luke 14:28 as a metaphor, but it comes alive in South Atlanta quite literally. In my role as Director of Mixed-Income Housing, community building boils has a lot to do with strategy and cost.

Sometimes people get squeamish talking about money and shrewdness in relationship to ministry - but we don’t have that luxury when working to build equitable housing. We calculate every step of changing the bricks and mortar of South Atlanta; we have to study the market, to examine what families need. Each day, we walk into work and ask how we are going to fill the responsibility of creating housing. When is the community better served by rentals, supported ownership, or a market rate home?  We need to have funding in order to see what we are going to be able to supply a neighborhood with, forcing us to select what area to focus on.

Once we decide what type of housing to construct, we have to be strategic in where and how we do it. In the last couple of years, one of my greatest challenges or accomplishments has been getting to purchase an entire residential block here in South Atlanta. We bought four properties as one group purchase specifically to change the atmosphere of the entire block, which had one particular house that hosts unsavory activity.

That bulk acquisition serves our greater goal of transforming the neighborhood. In purchasing the block, we change the context in which the house sits. We haven’t changed what happens in that one house, but we have changed its dynamics. As we’re building homes around that one house, we’re intentionally placing neighbors on the street. Such a move has taken a lot of planning and strategizing! But being intentional in this way positions us to care about the people in the community by providing safe and quality housing, and at a good price point to boot.

Through all of the work, I get to touch every part of the housing program. The moments of seeing transformation, whether through the completion of a new home or a tenant moving in, encourage me in times when we don’t have enough money to do what we would do in a dream world. I get to look at those moments of limitation, and see how they create a sense of creativity in the housing team here at FCS. In an unexpected way, the limitations, staring at the strength and weakness of finances, reminds me of Jesus. Jesus looked at each person in both their strengths and limits and always resolved to care for them. He offered dignity and respect. I try to live based on that idea, along with counting the cost.

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