Charis Housing Summer Update

by FCS Ministries on

We have been busy at Charis! Two houses sold this summer, and two more are currently listed. Watching new homeowners close on our houses never gets old, and it’s a joy to welcome more neighbors to our South Atlanta community.  

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In July and August, we hosted Metro Atlanta Project (M.A.P.) and their amazing volunteers. They served 30 Charis families with their skills, time, and enthusiasm.

 

One homeowner commented, “Those young folks were wonderful. I am pleased with their work and wanted to reward them with pizza!” Who could ask for a better thank you?

 

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This fall, we’re completing four more houses that will soon be listed, and we’re in process of buying two more homes. We are working steadily towards our mission to strengthen families and neighborhoods one house at a time. And we couldn’t do it without your help! Thank you so much for your ongoing support.

 

To donate to Charis, click here.

 

Check out our current listings: 

1607 Lakewood Ave SE

61 Dorothy St SE

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3 Common Misunderstandings About Poverty

by FCS Ministries on

By Shawn Duncan

FCS has been working in urban neighborhoods affected by poverty for decades. We've also welcomed service teams and connected with other groups doing similar work all around the country. In that time we have learned a lot about what works…and what doesn’t!

It's exciting to see individuals and organizations dream big about how a community can be revitalized and re-energized to thrive. An important place to start is a holistic understanding of poverty. Along the way, we've observed three common misunderstanding about poverty.

Misunderstanding #1: Defining Poverty as Material Lack

When evaluating a community, how you diagnose an issue will directly impact how to attempt to address it. Do we see "poverty" solely as a lack of stuff? Does limited money, clothes, or food make up our entire definition of poverty?

If we focus on material lack, we will spend our time, resources, and energy sourcing and distributing that stuff. Before we know it, our community development can become a "fill the empty bucket" approach.

Unfortunately, this strategy will never really alleviate poverty. It may make one day easier for someone experiencing poverty, but it will not impact the problem. In some instances, this approach actually digs the poverty hole deeper.

Misunderstanding #2: Envisioning Poverty as an Individual (or Family)

Yes, there are individuals and families experiencing poverty and affected by its presence. However, focusing on such personal realities can miss the bigger picture. We have to expand our understanding of poverty beyond the person or family that approaches us with a need.

FCS defines poverty as a systematic reality. We do our best to take into account issues of place, access, transportation, housing, etc beyond the simple "lack of stuff" paradigm. We have to know the difference between the manifestations of symptoms the original, systematic causes.

Misunderstanding #3: Addressing Poverty from One Angle Only

If the first two misunderstandings go unaddressed, it is extremely likely that the solution will approach only one aspect of the need. For example, a poor family that shares a need for housing will be helped with the provision of a place to live.

While this may occasionally be the "hand up" this family needed to escape poverty, that is not the norm. Typically, challenges with housing are intertwined with additional systematic issues that must be addressed, such as jobs, education, food, etc.

Even if this approach does help one person or family at a time, it is not an approach that can sustain real change in a poor community. For groups who seek to move the poverty needle in a community, a multidimensional strategy is a necessity.

These are 3 common misunderstandings about poverty we have observed over time. At FCS, we aim for neighborhood transformation, using methods that engage a community holistically.

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When Following God Doesn’t Follow Protocol

by FCS Ministries on

By Jim Wehner

A resident in our transitional housing program was late on her rent. Since the program provides assistance to families and individuals that need help with housing, this predicament is nothing new. Part of assisting people in their housing needs includes mentoring in financial choices and prioritizing payments.

This particular tenant had been through all our channels of assistance and, as happens sometimes, it was time to begin the eviction process. This ending is never easy for us. Even though we invest a great deal of time, resources, and energy before we reach this place, it still feels like we have failed somehow.

But this time something happened. A fire in her apartment.

This same resident - whose worldly possessions fit into a one room efficiency apartment with two of her children - now lost almost everything. She moved in with her mother, who was in another apartment in the same building.

FCS worked feverishly to repair the damage from the fire, which ended up costing a great deal. This was no small event. It challenged the strength of our entire team as we dealt with the crisis.

And for the resident, it was not the first time for her to start over. The very fact that her mother was in the same transitional program reveals the generational dynamics at work in their family.  

We resumed conversations about her rent, now unpaid for three months, when the unthinkable happened. Her mother went into diabetic shock, then a coma, before passing away 24 hours later.

The apartment could be repaired. Most of her possessions could be replaced. But now she had lost her one source of strength in her life. It was devastating.  

And though I felt guilty for even thinking about it, I realized we never answered of our original question: Should we evict her? Of course, we had reasons to say yes. Our protocol requires all our residents to be involved in their own process. The months without paying rent, as well as by-passing other opportunities, would typically lead to ending our support.

But our goal is to support families and individuals that need help with housing. In this case, we chose not to evict. There was just too much happening in her life to add homelessness to the pile.

And we are reminded that God is our provider. God is bigger than the tragedies and intensities that enter our lives at the worst moments. And honestly, in our work, the level of need almost always outstrips our personal and corporate resources.

Over time, God provided a place for our resident to live with a family member, and she moved out of our apartments. For us, we grow in our experiences of waiting on God to provide beyond our abilities.  And we watch expectantly for him to do so. This consistent posture has developed in us low-frequency trust in God to fill these gaps between resource and need. And God always shows up.

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What Does It Mean To Be An Intentional Neighbor?

by FCS Ministries on

One of the core tenets of FCS and our housing ministry, Charis Community Housing, is the value of neighboring. We practice local living, believing that everyone needs each other. There is beauty in doing life together and raising families together.  

When FCS began work in the neighborhood of East Lake many years ago, we included a Strategic Neighbor Program. This program established an official structure for individuals who desired to move to a low-income neighborhood, motivated by their Christian faith and their commitment to reconciliation, restoration, and redistribution.

 

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Strategic Neighbors received rental assistance and stipends to support their work in the community. They also attended regular meetings with other Strategic Neighbors. This programming worked well during our time in East Lake, and the program remained in East Lake even as FCS’ focus shifted to South Atlanta.

 

We did not establish a similar Strategic Neighbor program in South Atlanta. Instead, we began to consider historical residents in the community who had invited us to join their commitment to the neighborhood. Their faith had encouraged them to live purposefully on their streets and in the overall community. Each of these residents held a great deal of spiritual and communal wisdom to share with others.

 

We began to question the term “Strategic Neighbor” and why it would apply to new neighbors any more than these long-time residents. We recognized that without an official program in place, we also needed a new, more inclusive term to talk about those working for transformation of the community.

 

A great deal of thought and debating resulted in the phrase “intentional neighboring” to describe the on-the-ground community work happening in South Atlanta. This wording is more of a verb than a noun. It’s not a job description, nor a checklist of what to do or not to do. Rather, it describes purposeful living in whatever place God has called you.

 

We encourage others who are moving into distressed communities to partner with the residents already working for good. We emphasize neighborhood leadership and a commitment to mixed-income housing development. We believe this partnership strategy builds into the neighborhood’s social, spiritual, and economic vitality. Together, intentional neighbors can and do have a big impact on their community.

 

This post was originally posted on the Charis Community Housing blog. 

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Watch Our Story on PBS!

by FCS Ministries on

We recently had the honor to share our story on PBS. Religion & Ethics Newsweekly featured Bob Lupton and FCS in July 2015. It was a joy to work with their team and to share an inside peak into our community, businesses, and housing programs.  

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If you missed the live version, check out the video below!

 

 

If you'd like to hear more from Bob Lupton, check out his new book: Charity Detox.

To support the work of FCS, please consider a donation. You can give here.

 

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5 Questions to Consider Before Starting a Housing Ministry

by FCS Ministries on

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!

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How Do You Transform a Street?

by FCS Ministries on

By Jim Wehner  

“How do you transform a street?”

 

There are literally dozens of ways to answer this question. At FCS, we think there is really one core principle that stands out: neighboring. Populating empty homes pushes out blight and builds positive energy that lets a street get its groove on!

 

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In South Atlanta, the neighborhood where we currently serve, the issue of vacancy makes a street vulnerable to all sorts of negative urban realities. But when we begin to put neighbors back in houses, streets come alive again.

 

Take Thayer Avenue for instance. Two years ago, there was a block and a half section of this street with 12 houses. Nine of them were vacant. This tiny section of our neighborhood was rough, and the 75% vacancy wasn’t helping.

 

FCS had three families living there, two of them are staff. Nine of the homes on this block were built in 2006 and investor owned. An epidemic of mortgage fraud meant majority vacancy by 2009.

 

One of the program staff walked into my office and asked if there was anything FCS could do on that block through Charis Community Housing, our housing program. We went to work.

 

It took Charis almost 18 months to complete the acquisition and sale of 6 houses on this block - two affordable and four market-rate. Simultaneously, two investors (not connected to our work) bought properties and rehabbed them for rentals.

 

When we came to closing on these houses, we provided resource manuals for the new residents, discussed important ideas around “intentional neighboring,” and introduced the new homeowners to our neighborhood Civic League to encourage their participation in the community. Ownership and involvement go a long way to seeing streets transform.

 

Now, a mere 24 months later, this section of Thayer Avenue is alive and well. Of course, it’s not perfect. Neighbors have differences, but that goes for even the most healthy streets.

 

Property crime continues to be an issue, albeit much less than two years ago. And residents on the street came together to get more street lights from the city to help.

 

Recently we learned that one of the neighbors on Thayer is moving. But while we will miss her, one of the signs that this street is transforming is the very fact that she was able to market and sell her home is less than 30 days. Thayer is a great street to live on!

 

How do you transform a street? It is the people on the block, participating in the life of their street, valuing the diversity of the urban landscape, and investing in healthy neighboring relationships.

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4 Questions to Ask Before Renovating a Home

by FCS Ministries on

By Jim Wehner  

Housing is a major component in community development. Having spaces that families can call home anchors them in 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 an important piece of building flourishing communities.

 

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In the last 35 years, FCS has completed more than 350 homes through our housing ministry, Charis Community Housing. Our experience has helped us refine our process and ask better questions before we jump into a new project. If you (or your organization) are involved in housing, you might find our questions helpful. When starting to renovate a new home, here are 4 questions to ask first:

 

What is the end product for this project?

Rental renovation and sale renovations have very similar processes, but the budgets and outcomes are vastly different. Rentals require you to think about durability and sustainability (read: cost-effective solutions). You must also understand what the market will support in terms of rent, and base your renovation budget on those realities.

 

Conversely, renovating to sell means making the house desirable from a buyer’s perspective.  The materials you use and the colors you use, especially in kitchens and bathrooms, are very important. Usually, they are also more costly choices than what a rental project might require. Therefore, it’s vital to be clear on the purpose of the renovation before you begin the work!

 

What is the total cost of the project?

Before you acquire a property, you should be very clear what the total cost of acquisition and renovation will be. There is nothing worse than getting part-way through a renovation and having to stop work because you’ve run short on funding.

 

Once you start your project, stick to the plan. Upgrades and nice additions may seem fun, but they will add time and expense to your renovation. And sadly, most of these expenses won’t be recovered once you move to rental or sale.

 

Finally, your budget should include some contingency funds. Renovations always include surprise expenses, and extra funds will help you over these speedbumps. Without good planning, these speedbumps turn into mountains.

 

Do I have the experience and expertise to pull off this renovation?

A strong real estate agent, contractor, or inspector can save you serious headaches in the long run. Build trusting relationships with partners that have experience and expertise. They will gladly help out and keep you on course.

 

But remember, they are also worth their wage. I will not hesitate to talk to a contractor when I need a pro bono job done on behalf of FCS. But it is the past work we have paid for and the trust that we have built with our contractors that allows me to lean on them when things get tight.

 

If you are continually asking your contractors to give you lower cost or free work, they will soon go away. And you will earn a reputation for the type of work you want done. Proverbs 15:22 reminds us that, “Plans fail for lack of advisers, but with many advisers they succeed.”

 

What will success look like when the project is complete?

Start your work with a clear vision. If you are approaching a project on behalf of a low-income family and want to make it affordable, you must keep the process sustainable while providing a product that is wholesome and viable. That means using materials that last, building in a way that lowers utility expenses, and making sure that you can afford to be the landlord for years to come.

 

For greatest success, know your end goal and do your homework before jumping in. While you cannot foresee all speedbumps, you can plan well to deliver on your vision.

 

Ty Pennington may be able to build a house in a week, but for the rest of us, housing is long term work. Providing housing in an urban community is not for the faint of heart, 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!

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Coming Home to South Atlanta

by FCS Ministries on

Dorothy said it best: There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. One of the highlights for FCS is the ongoing work of our housing group, Charis Community Housing. Twenty-five percent of the homes in Historic South Atlanta (our focus neighborhood) are vacant. We know that these empty houses can be vulnerable spaces in our community, and that’s why Charis works block by block and street by street to bring families and residents back into these homes.  

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Charis provides wholesome, viable, mixed-income housing to the neighborhood. And the change happening in our community is evident. In fact, local Atlanta newspaper Creative Loafing recently featured South Atlanta in their 2015 Neighborhood Issue. It’s a celebratory moment to see our neighborhood acknowledged and highlighted in the city. The article reads, “In recent years the historically African-American community has seen re-investment by new neighbors and a commercial strip revamp including a thrift store, coffee shop, and bicycle repair shop that once housed a movie theater.”

 

We know that South Atlanta is home to many amazing neighbors, and we’re grateful for the opportunity to bring more energized residents to the area. We believe Charis has helped strengthen the community by providing beautiful, quality homes that residents can own.

 

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This spring, we have three new houses coming on the market. Two of homes are three-bedrooms, while the third is a four-bedroom house. We are actively seeking out new families to move into the community and be a part of the good things happening in South Atlanta. It’s exciting to watch empty houses become full again and know that as home ownership increases, the fabric of the community is strengthened as well.

 

If you or anyone you know is interested in living in our target neighborhood, you can find details about the houses for sale on Charis’ website. We’ve got three more homes in the construction process, so 2015 is already off to a booming start in our housing ministry.

 

We are grateful for all our supporters who walk with us in this stabilizing, consistent work. Unlocking a home for a new owner is truly a gift to that resident, as well as to our focus community. Please continue to support our housing work in South Atlanta as we continue to contribute to a neighborhood that is growing and thriving.

 

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How Do We Know If Our Work is Working? Measuring Flourishing Neighborhoods

by FCS Ministries on

There are a couple questions we hear all the time in community-based work like ours. How do you know if your efforts are working? How do you know when you are finished in a community? How do you define success?  

We decided it was time to address these questions head-on. FCS needed a way to measure the effectiveness of our work in meaningful ways.

 

Flourishing Neighborhoods

We have partnered with the South Atlanta Civic League (SACL) in our target neighborhood of Historic South Atlanta. Together, we are working towards a thriving and flourishing community.

 

We breakdown the components of a flourishing neighborhood as follows:

• Sense of Place

• Effective, Credible Community Leadership

• Neighborhood-focused Faith

• Meaningful Work and Opportunities

• Mixed-Income Housing Opportunities

• Sustainable Built Enviornment (parks and green spaces, road and walk ways)

• Youth, Families, and Education

• Neighborhood Connectivity

 

To capture useful data about need and areas for growth, FCS has been conducting surveys among neighborhood residents. Our two incredible interns from Georgia Tech, Brandon and Luke, have been interviewing community members covering the range of topics listed above.

 

Measuring Community Development Work

Follow-up surveys will be conducted annually to measure the impact of FCS and the SACL’s efforts and development. We are excited for the direction and measurement this survey process will offer as we continue to refine our models and practices for outstanding community development.

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When Outside Gifts Bless Community Work

by FCS Ministries on

By Jim Wehner The Charis staff was talking yesterday about one of the houses we are currently renovating. It will be beautiful when we are done. It will be important on the street, and the family that purchases it will be integral to our work of re-neighboring the blocks.

Cynthia, the managing director for our housing partner Charis Community Housing, was adding up the expenses on this property. Even though it has so much to offer the community, it is becoming clear that we are not going to cover our costs on this house.

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The conversation is what we call a “process check.” In 2008-2009, we pulled together a task force made up of men and women of faith that work in the Real Estate industry (builders, agents, lawyers and an architect). This commited task force  helped  us develop and clarify a process that would keep Charis healthy and enable us to do sustainable ministry. They developed a strong business plan and pro forma (budgeting process).

A process check is a simple way of saying we (Cynthia and I) are comparing the work that we have done on this house against that plan and pro forma. It is not surprising that we found two mistakes.

First, in the pressure to complete the house on time, we had begun work without finalizing our construction budget. When we ran into an unexpected (and unbudgeted) structural issue on the house, we made a second mistake. We did not add those new costs into the budget and subtract other work so that we could stay on plan.

These are easy mistakes to make in the remodeling process. Fortunately, because of the work done by our task force to create a clear set of guidelines, we can make adjustments prior to completing the project. We can hold ourselves accountable to a healthy process.

When I think about the gift those members of our housing task force gave to Charis and FCS five years ago, I am extremely humbled and blessed by the way the body of Christ can work together to serve a whole neighborhood.  Their expertise has provided more than $2.5 million in development of affordable and market rate housing in our focus neighborhood.

Housing redevelopment is not a sure thing.  It takes a specific skillset, as well as capital, to support the work. The ability to draw from the gifts of others and hold ourselves accountable is a huge gift to the organization and the community and a daily reminder of the power of body of Christ working together.

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