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Housing in the USA

The Scriptures look ahead to that ideal day when all persons will enjoy pleasant, peaceful, and secure shelter under their own vines and fig trees and "no one shall make them afraid" (Micah 4:4 NRSV).

In many portions of the Gospel, we find Jesus seeking out homes for retreat and renewal, for fellowship and hospitality. Similarly, all persons are entitled to dwelling places that provide for safety, privacy and recreation.

The Social Principles statement of The United Methodist Church declares: "We hold governments responsible for . . . guarantee of the rights to adequate . . . shelter" (¶ 164A). We reaffirm this right as well as the assertion of the 1972 General Conference that "housing for low income persons should be given top priority" (1972 Book of Resolutions).

The need for adequate housing at affordable costs is critical today.

Love for neighbor demands that Christians care about how adequately their neighbors are sheltered. Christians should identify with those who suffer daily from a shortage of available, decent, safe, and sanitary housing. There are many levels and forms of deprivation. Nearly every American town and city has its "homeless," those who exist literally without any form of shelter, living under bridges, in cars and abandoned buses, carrying their entire possessions with them in a few shopping bags.

Millions of families huddle together in densely overcrowded apartments, rural shacks, ancient house trailers, converted warehouses, and condemned or abandoned buildings. Many of our fellow citizens live in housing that lack such necessities as running water or plumbing, and others have no permanent housing (the homeless) because the remainder of us fail to recognize their plight or simply do not care enough.

Since December of 1986, families with children have become the fastest growing homeless group. While The United Methodist Church affirms the pervasive powers of families as "creators of persons, proclaimers of faith perspectives and shapers of both present and future society," it must continue its condemnation of policies that ignore the causal relationship between shortages of low-income housing and the lack of initiative or political will to ensure that safe and affordable housing is available to all citizens.

The deinstitutionalization of persons diagnosed as mentally ill or recovering, or who could live full lives with minimal supervision, is a concept of worth. However, a lack of regional and community planning has allowed many people to be released from a variety of institutions with no place to go, no affordable housing on the budgets allotted to persons through federal or state funds, and no supervised environment for those who need it. Few services exist to maintain supervised, semi-independent, safe, affordable housing. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that one third of the homeless have mental health problems. Some are persons who were deinstitutionalized with no support; others became ill because of the environment of homelessness.

"Am I my brother's keeper" (Genesis 4:9, NRSV) becomes a challenging alternative when concerned United Methodists begin to address the phenomenon of increased homeless families in our country. We must grapple with ways to meet the needs of the homeless. We must be more open to using church buildings that are outmoded and excess land in urban and rural areas. We must examine needs and services in our communities and develop a better understanding of our role in local, state, and federal policy development. We commend United Methodists who are engaged in the effort to change such intolerable housing conditions. We commend every such individual, local church, interfaith group, nonprofit, for-profit, and government effort. We endorse with gratitude and appreciation the thousands of dollars and untold hours of voluntary service that United Methodists dedicate to this battle to improve human shelter in our country. We urge local churches, districts, and annual conferences to strengthen every housing ministry taking place within their communities by providing additional financial, technical, counseling, and spiritual resources.

Many specific activities deserve greater United Methodist support.

A. At the local level

Local churches, individually or in cooperation with other churches, can identify specific housing needs existing in their communities. Often, bringing to public consciousness the plight of people in need of shelter is the first step toward alleviating such need. Sometimes the use of existing church buildings can graphically demonstrate both the need and a solution that then can be developed more fully through the use of other facilities and financial resources.

Formation of nonprofit and limited-divided housing corporations or housing cooperatives is a viable approach in many situations. There are excellent opportunities for establishing housing construction, management, and advocacy programs. However, expert consultative and technical services generally are needed from the earliest conception. We urge the use of the services provided by the General Board of Global Ministries. We urge landowners, apartment and housing managers, and policy boards to allow federally subsidized tenants to inhabit their dwellings. This is a serious problem at this time, because US government policy recommends selling up to 30 percent of public housing units for private development. The net result is displacement of the poor. Availability of housing for them is limited because of discrimination and a reluctance on the part of the government to maintain federally subsidized housing monies for privately owned housing.

B. At the regional level

The atmosphere of conflict infects the relationship between cities, towns, suburban areas, counties, and states throughout our nation. Too often, competition for use of land cloaks subtle racism. Economic profit, likewise, often is used to justify a lack of concern for the impact of taxation measures. Uncoordinated planning and development results in jobs being located beyond the reach of those most in need of work. The "trickle-down theory" of housing occupancy masks a selfish motivation and results in the maintenance and expansion of existing ghettos, causes the formation of new ghettos, and enforces negative attitudes that support class and racial segregation. We urge United Methodists to challenge all such practices and to engage in every activity to eliminate such vestiges of discrimination from our nation.

Every urbanized area in our country is required to have some form of a regional planning agency. Most rural areas have some similar agency, such as an area development district. Generally these political structures have considerable influence upon housing patterns, planning, production, and usage. Most can have citizens' advisory groups that develop strategy proposals and monitor private and governmental housing activities. We urge United Methodists to become knowledgeable of and involved in such planning agencies.

C. At the national level

Since the enactment of the National Housing Act of 1949, the United States has set a goal that every citizen be housed in "decent, safe and sanitary housing." Yet the reality is that we are farther from that goal today than ever before. In part, this is due to growth of population and the ever-increasing gap between those who are economically well-off and those who are not. But in large measure, the disparity is due to an unwillingness of our elected representatives to use general tax revenues to achieve the goals more fully. Generally, legislators feel they represent the views of their electorate and receive very little support for using tax dollars to build more housing for low- and moderate-income families. The moral commitment first stated in 1949 and restated in every subsequent Housing Act by Congress (1959, 1968, 1974, 1978) has gone greatly unheeded. If "decent, safe and sanitary housing" is to be a citizen's right, a much greater moral outcry must be raised.

Therefore, we call upon United Methodists to undertake a concerted effort to impress upon their elected representatives a profound concern over the continuing housing deficiencies existing in our cities, towns, and rural areas. Much more effort needs to be made to influence the legislative processes that affect housing, including improving existing laws, developing more imaginative approaches where possible, and providing adequate funding for housing designated to meet the needs of the ill-sheltered.

(1) Subsidized Rental Housing (Section 8) and Public housing

Under the Section 8 Housing Assistance Payments Program, renters normally pay a percentage of their income for rent, and the federal government makes up the difference between that and the HUD- (Department of Housing and Urban Development) established Fair Market Rent. We support this program for subsidizing rents as one way of opening up more housing units to low-income families and yet expecting such families, when possible, to provide their fair share of costs. However, the reality is that there are just not enough units of housing available at a cost that can be afforded by the poor, even with payment assistance. There is a great need for developing more housing units. The Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) is the primary source of income for many people who now find themselves homeless. The amount of money that many families with children receive is lower than the average cost of housing in many states. This situation will exacerbate when TANF recipients are terminated due to the term limits now imposed by federal and state governments.

We are greatly concerned over the rapidly increasing trend toward converting rental housing to condominiums for sale. Too often in practice this means pushing people out of housing they can afford to rent but can't afford to buy. We therefore recommend that the rate of condominium conversion of rental units be slowed, or that percentages of the units be set aside with affordable rental rates. Further, we urge local housing authorities to offset this trend by encouraging increased housing stock of subsidized rental units.

We support use of a wide variety of subsidized housing approaches in order to meet a greater demand to house needy people. However, the development of a "voucher" program with no ceiling on the actual rent that can be charged and no local community guarantee of housing set aside for the poor will not alleviate the present situation.

Public housing continues to be a vital necessity in both urban and rural areas. Every incorporated city, town, and county can and should provide public, well-constructed, and well-managed rental housing for those who cannot obtain it on the open market. Nearly 50 percent of all housing is now occupied by the elderly. Since the church has traditionally expressed concern and provided care of the aging, it is especially crucial that this program is continued, expanded, and adequately funded.

We must at all times critically examine the setting at the local, state, and federal levels, because governmental policies affect the funding, improvement, and provision of housing resources for any given community. The Federal Administration between 1981 and 1988 tried to eliminate or reduce the main federal programs used by states and local governments to help the poor and the homeless. The Community Development Block Grant Program, General Revenue Sharing, and the Temporary Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) have all been affected. The Community Development Block Grant Program budget has been cut almost yearly. General Revenue Sharing was eliminated. The Administration has targeted for elimination the Temporary Emergency Food Assistance Program. Congress has repeatedly come to the rescue of these programs and in 1986 passed a law allowing the homeless to receive Aid to Families with Dependent Children (Now Temporary Aid to Needy Families), social security, and Medicaid.

(2) Fair housing

Fair housing in our nation has regressed dramatically. Because housing remains segregated in most places in the United States, schools tend to be segregated and jobs tend to be located at inconvenient distances from ethnic neighborhoods.

We therefore call upon the US Congress to provide the Department of Housing and Urban development with "cease and desist" enforcement powers, and we encourage HUD to apply these powers evenly and with relentless determination to ensure equal access to affordable housing in all markets. We support state and local legislation that would strengthen fair housing enforcement across the country. We also support HUD funding for states with laws that are substantially equivalent to federal law. We also call for the expansion of coverage in the Fair Housing Act to provide protection for people with disabilities.

Equal access to housing not available represents an unrealizable right. Therefore, to fulfill equal opportunity objectives we urge that more housing be built and offered at prices most persons can afford to pay.

A. Redlining

We deplore the practice of "redlining" as it occurs in many urban areas. This generally means that financial institutions, insurance companies, and mortgage brokers collectively make it difficult for homeowners to secure adequate financing and insurance at reasonable rates in a certain neighborhood of a given urban community. We ask that all necessary steps be taken, through negotiation and legislation, to eliminate this immoral practice, and that churches take the lead in encouraging financial support arrangements that rejuvenate instead of destroy our neighborhoods. Vigilant monitoring by the religious community can forestall such unhealthy practices.

We support existing laws such as the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act, which provides information to the public on where banks and savings and loans make their loans, and the enlarged Community Reinvestment Act, which mandates that banks and savings and loans have the responsibility to serve the credit needs of moderate and lower-income communities.

We urge compliance of the institutions in which the church deposits funds with the Home Mortgage Act; and we support such additional regulations and laws that will ensure reinvestment in currently redlined communities, in a way that will not result in unjust displacement of elderly, poor, ethnic, and other persons.

B. Housing for older adults and people with disabilities

The Section 202 federal program is a bright spot in an otherwise dismal picture of housing for older adults and people with disabilities of any age. Restricted to sponsorship by nonprofit groups (the majority of which are related to religious groups), the 202 continues to offer a direct ministry opportunity. Since it is a loan guarantee program with lower-than-market interest rates, it needs to be funded at much more realistic levels than in the past. There is also a need for expanding the congregate housing services project for semi-independent older adults or people with disabilities. The steady increase in age of our population is evidence for the need to expand the 202 program until the need for this type of rental housing for the elderly has been met. This program provides support services for persons using 202 housing and is cost effective because it allows people who might have to be institutionalized to live in much lower-cost housing.

(3) Housing for Native Americans

Housing policy, as in other aspects of national policy and practices toward Native American tribes, is grossly inadequate. We call for a substantial increase in programs at the federal level and for the implementation of state and local housing programs in every possible way, so that the shocking condition of substandard reservation housing can be quickly improved. Special efforts through programs of United Methodist general agencies, in partnership with ethnic conferences and funds for ethnic ministry, should be supportive of actions to improve housing for Native Americans.

(4) Financing of Housing

Traditionally, the vast majority of housing in our country has been financed through the private money-lending industry. There is little likelihood that this would need to change if the traditional principles against usury are followed. But more attention needs to be given to developing ways mortgage money can be made available to low-income persons for home ownership, and to provide rental housing for low-income people. Federal and state programs aid the moderate- and upper-income segments of our population quite well, but similarly helpful programs for the lower-income sector of the population do not exist. The 1980s saw the greatest benefit go not to the neediest families, but to those who are sufficiently well off to purchase homes.

The higher the family income, the more these tax immunities breaks help. Three fourths of these tax immunities breaks go to homeowners in the top 15 percent of the income bracket. Poor or lower-middle class homeowners get only 3 percent of the tax immunities breaks. Government-subsidized mortgage programs need to be developed that can also aid the lower-middle class and poor individuals and families.

In contrast to the rapid growth in federal aid to move well-to-do homeowners through the Internal Revenue Code, Congress has continued to cut the federal budget in areas that greatly affect poor working families.

New methods of private financing need to be developed so that traditional money sources are not withdrawn from the housing industry in favor of other, more profitable forms of investment.


A number of federal programs as well as some state programs exist today to make possible the meaningful participation of church groups in providing adequate housing in a wholesome environment. We encourage United Methodist churches to join in such programs that require minimal capital investment but substantial commitment of time and energy. Churches should be aware that these programs are available in both urban and rural areas. More church groups ought to:

  1. Be concerned about the conditions of housing in their communities;
  2. Use the tools available (e.g., General Board of Global Ministries Housing Consultant Services) to provide better housing;
  3. Dedicate a special day or Sunday as a Day of Prayer and Action for Shelter, as has been developed by Habitat for Humanity (contact the General Board of Global Ministries for special resources); and
  4. Develop a sense of mission and assume responsibility as stewards to meet these needs without expectation of monetary reward.
  5. Encourage the establishment and full funding of a Community and State Fair Housing Trust Fund.

In implementing any housing ministry, church people must maintain great sensitivity to community needs and work to achieve community participation and control. Tenants' need for adequate, reasonably priced and energy-efficient housing should be recognized. Care must always be exercised to ensure our Christian involvement as "enablers" rather than "controllers." Our goal must always be to enable those we help to be in control of their own lives, futures, and destinies. Whatever the form of community organization, housing production, management, or ownership of a housing project, every effort should be made at each developmental step to ensure that those who are being aided are afforded the opportunity, and indeed, are required, to take every action necessary to direct the undertaking. Wherever possible, we must train rather than service, transfer power rather than decide, empower rather than control. In this as in all other aspects of housing ministries, United Methodists should seek the best technical guidance and ensure the greatest professional competence for such a ministry. Let us equip ourselves and provide the widest possible range of supportive assistance to individuals, congregations, districts, conferences, and all forms of cooperative groups sharing similar goals and policies so that our fellow citizens may achieve, as their right, "decent, safe and sanitary housing" as soon as possible.

amended and readopted 2008
resolution #117, 2004 book of resolutions
resolution #106, 2000 book of resolutions

See Social Principles, ¶ 162 and 162A.

From The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church - 2008. Copyright © 2008 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Used by permission.