Affordable Housing Initiatives

In 1988 Trinity Foundation began The Dallas Project. Foundation members believed that if 10 to 20 families in every church , synagogue, mosque or other charitable organization could take care of one homeless person or family–to commit to them as a community rather than seeing them only as “clients” for social service professionals to deal with– then homelessness might be significantly reduced or even eradicated in the United States.

As churches as organizations responded, Trinity was able to help them transcend the jargon and bureaucracy of the urban social service status quo to give needy people what they need most–community.

Later, the foundation was confronted with a challenge of its own. In 1998 Trinity was asked to become owner of 13 apartment complexes in Oklahoma City and another complex in Dayton, Ohio, that would provide low-cost, affordable housing for the poor and distressed in those cities. The transaction was financed with municipal bonds.

Complement to the Dallas Project

This allowed the foundation to share its unique vision of meeting need with hundreds of new organizations, and to encounter and overcome a wider set of problems. And the response was phenomenal. This was most clearly seen in 1999 when hundreds of churches and organizations responded to the foundation’s call to care for victims of a devastating tornado that left thousands homeless in Oklohoma City. Volunteers worked to make 400 apartments available for displaced families. This “big event” effort has been followed by continuous self-sacrifice on a daily basis from countless volunteers.

The projects have not been without challenges.

Although the Oklahoma Project was a spiritual success in terms of ministry, it was a financial failure. Due to circumstances brought on by the economics of the day, it became financially untenable in 2003 and had to be sold. The project was made available to a California concern and has since been maintained as an affordable housing development. The apartment complex in Dayton, Ohio, recently met a similar fate.

Although disappointed, Trinity learned valuable lessons about how affordable housing projects need to be structured. Most importantly, we were able to gain the confidence of bond departments in major institutional brokerage firms and their representatives across the country.

The Problem

America is faced with an increasing crisis in low-cost, affordable housing for the poor. Traditional responses are not meeting the need. And now a mortgage crisis and a worldwide economic crisis is threatening thousands more middle-class Americans with homelessness.

The facts are daunting.

POVERTY: The poor remain poorer than at any time since 1979. The gap between rich and poor remains at a record level. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, basic cash assistance is reaching many fewer poor families with children than in the recessions of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s.

Goldman Sachs projects that the unemployment rate will rise to 9 percent by the fourth quarter of 2009. That means the number of poor Americans will rise by 7.5-10.3 million, the number of poor children will rise by 2.6-3.3 million, and the number of children in deep poverty will climb by 1.5-2.0 million.

HOUSING: The current foreclosure crisis is affecting the entire housing market, including rental properties, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Dependent on their landlord to inform them of a foreclosure, renters are most at risk of being evicted with little notice. With lower incomes and fewer resources, their options after an eviction are often limited.

HUNGER: Incredible as it may seem, U. S. government agencies report that 11.4 percent of America’s households are “food insecure.” Nearly 12 million Americans went hungry at some point last year, including almost 700,000 children, which was an increase of more than 50 percent from the year before. Two of the four poorest counties and 12 of the 25 poorest counties in the country are in our own state of Texas. Almost 4 million Texans live below the poverty level; 2.6 million experience shortages of food; 1 million face hunger.

HOMELESSNESS: Nearly 61 percent of local and state homeless coalitions say they’ve experienced a rise in homelessness since the foreclosure crisis began in 2007, according to a report in September 2008 by the National Coalition for the Homeless. Homeless advocacy groups and city agencies are reporting the most visible rise in homeless encampments and “tent cities” in a generation. According to a New York Times report, in the 2006-7 school year the Education Department categorized 688,174 children as homeless. About 700,000 people live in shelters or on the streets on any given day, housing officials say. But federal dollars finance only 170,000 beds.

According to the National Center on Family Homelessness, Texas had 337,105 homeless children as of 2006, including Hurricane Katrina evacuees. A 2008 count found that there were 1,273 homeless children on any given night in Dallas County, and officials expect that figure to rise due to job losses and foreclosures.

A 2009 Dallas Morning News report found:

  • One in 20 Texas children does not know where he or she will get the next meal.
  • Less than one in four homeless children graduates from high school.
  • More than one in five Texas children are uninsured.
  • Texas has no long-term planning to address homeless children.

The foundation in 2010 handed over the daily hands-on aspect of its Dallas Project vision to Community on Columbia, a congregation made up of many of the members of Trinity.

BUT TRINITY FOUNDATION is hoping to make an impact in the wider arena of affordable housing by offering seminars for other non-profit organizations:

–sharing its vision of small groups sponsoring the homeless and distressed, and

–explaining the best way of using municipal bond issues to finance the purchase of affordable housing as a community base to meet a wide range of social needs.

We hope the establishment of an endowment fund supplemented by a grant could help us realize the foundation’s full potential in this arena.

3 thoughts on “Affordable Housing Initiatives

  1. Do you have an step by step plan in helping the homeless? I don’t grasp what does this mean–“explaining the best way of using municipal bond issues to finance the purchase of affordable housing as a community base to meet a wide range of social needs.”

    I live in Granite City IL. Some times when driving to St. Louis over the Mckinley Bridge there is always a person with a sign begging for money. But, I don’t want to just give money. I want to get in contact with a homeless neighbor in Granite City, build loving friendship and help then help themselves in there need. But I would like to do it not alone but with Christian friends.

    John Mark Boonaerts

    1. Dear John Mark,

      We must have missed your comment 4 years ago. Please accept our apology for not responding back then. I’d like to respond to your first question (the bond issues) after addressing your response to seeing persons asking for money. We appreciate your thoughtfulness about not just giving money and your desire to not do it alone but with Christian friends. In our experience, money may be the least of their needs. What the homeless really need is to know someone cares for them and isn’t going to abandon them at the drop of a hat.

      We have taken in hundreds of homeless persons over the years but not so many lately. Instead of following a step by step series of actions to take, our “plan”, if you could call it that, was a realistic overview of how best to deal with the problem and that came from our initial failures. We realized that homeless persons, more often than not, had common needs over and above food and clothing that had not been met for awhile.

      For example, they might need dental work, a checkup by an MD, and/or medication they hadn’t taken for awhile due to lack of funds. Their car, if they have one, may be in bad need of repair. We suggested forming groups of a minimum of ten families per homeless person or family so that the entire burden of assistance wouldn’t fall on one person or family. Ideally, but not essential to this action, that group of ten supporting families would have a “safety net” backing them up such as a church, synagogue, or mosque.

      About the bond issues–in the 90’s and early 2000’s bond money had been raised to help pay for low-cost housing with our organization as the end recipient of over a dozen apartment complexes after the bonds had been paid off. Everything went wrong that could possibly go wrong and eventually we had to walk away from the projects. The only aspect of these projects that worked, for awhile anyway, was the adoption of these various apartment complexes by individual churches who managed various programs like “latch-key kid care”, adult computer education classes, and free health clinics operated by volunteer doctors and nurses.

      Before walking walk away from those apartment complexes, we gained a huge amount of knowledge and wisdom should the opportunity arise again in the future. There is much more to the story but that’s enough for now…

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