Every time we teach Unity Works, I think I learn more than the participants. For those of you who do not know, Unity Works is an 8 week interactive workshop series designed to address some of the most challenging issues facing our city. Our goal in facilitating these workshops is to help congregational groups be more intentional, innovative, and thoughtful regarding how they engage in missions activities locally. This particular workshop series is focused on the issue of homelessness in our city and we were invited to facilitate this series by members of Commonwealth Chapel.
We spent the first session laying the ground work and sharing tools for addressing issues surrounding poverty and homelessness in Richmond. Week two we looked at some of the barriers facing the most vulnerable in our city through sharing offered by formerly homeless individuals. Week three Homeward came and shared information about the homeless services system and the 10 year plan to prevent and end homelessness in our city. Last week we started looking at the gaps in the homeless services system in the city of Richmond, specifically how ordinary people of faith can respond. One of these major gaps in the existing system is a lack of affordable housing. In this post I will share some of the insights from that conversation and over the next few weeks, I will add reflections on the topics of employment and prevention.
In week 1 of Unity Works I share the basic premise of Asset Based Community Development which is that every community already has assets that can be used to address its own needs. Rather than focus on the lack of affordable housing, we focus on what we already have to work with. Below is a list of assets found in the general Richmond Community and also within the Commonwealth Chapel group who is participating in this session.
- Low income individuals who have stable income and can pay up to $400 per month
- Foreclosed properties selling for under $50,000
- Skilled and unskilled volunteers from within the communities and congregations who can help rehab properties
- Churches who have excess space or houses that are sitting empty
- Investors willing to buy houses if the return were attractive and the risk was not too high
Group Specific Assets:
- Charles, who works for Embrace, has done an excellent job managing the Embrace house and would like to manage more houses. He has a waiting list of potential residents.
- Several of the Unity Works participants have financial backgrounds and could help us figure out financing arrangements on abandoned properties
- There is an attorney who could aid in the structuring of arrangements with investors
- One participant is knowledgeable about making homes energy efficient which is often an issue with older homes and a barrier to keeping them low cost
- Several participants have done housing rehab and several would love to help decorate them and help make them a home
As a part of the Unity Works process, we break the group into teams and they have to draw a picture of how they would assemble these assets to address the need for affordable housing. The four pictures above are their renderings from last week. It was so much fun seeing the great ideas they came up with as well as seeing their artistic skills!
So, here is my question to you. What would your picture look like? How would you assemble all these puzzle pieces to address the need for affordable housing?
Just like in Unity Works, I don’t ask anyone to commit to anything. The goal is to learn to look at the world through the lens of assets instead of needs. Just learning to dream together is one of our goals. What God will do with these dreams is always a mystery. Some of the dream boards have led to amazing outcomes and some are still waiting for their season. Some of the dreams from this team may take root in the next session or this group may take the ideas and run. Embrace is just a spark and pray the Holy Spirit fans what we start into a flame someday.
If you would be interested in hosting a Unity Works in your area, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org .