New HUD initiative encourages churches to create housing programs for those in need

Volunteers work to construct Agape Village on the 11-acre campus of the Central Church of the Nazarene in Portland, Oregon in March 2019. | Facebook/Agape Village Portland

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has created a program geared toward encouraging churches and other faith-based organizations nationwide to launch housing outreach programs to help alleviate poverty. 

HUD Secretary Dr. Ben Carson announced on Wednesday the launching of a series of virtual workshops for faith organizations titled “The Mustard Seed Series.”

Each event will feature a faith-based organization that has worked to combat poverty in their community through various means, such as affordable housing and alternative housing models.

The first workshop, held Wednesday, featured Grove Community Church of Riverside, California and its partnership with the local government in building homes on the church’s property for low-income individuals called The Grove Village. 

HUD Secretary and retired neurosurgeon, Ben Carson, gives the keynote address at the 2020 Latino Coalition’s Legislative Summit. | HUD

While low-income families live at the small homes on the megachurch's property, they receive support services from the congregation to help them towards the goal of eventually attaining the financial stability to move into their own homes. Carson visited the church property earlier this year. 

In a statement, Carson said that he believed the United States “cannot alleviate poverty through the efforts of the federal government alone.”

“There are so many faith-based organizations serving vulnerable communities successfully, and we want to share these successes with other faith-based organizations who are already so dedicated to a posture of service,” he said.

“Our goal with the ‘Mustard Seed Series’ is to pair congregations interested in launching a housing outreach program with congregations already operating one so they can mentor each other and share best practices.”

The name of the program alludes to the biblical parable of the mustard seed, in which Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

In 2018, Grove Community Church built four 600-square-foot homes on its property for low-income families, with the Riverside city government waiving $120,000 in fees for the project.

“Our goal here is we want to bring people on this property who want to be employed,” explained Grove Community Pastor Tom Lance to ABC News at the time.

“We want them to know what it means to be a believer in Christ. We aren't going to force religion down their throat, but the reason this is happening is our people love Riverside.”

In a statement, Riverside Mayor Rusty Bailey said that the town is "blessed" to be in partnership with Grove Community Church. 

“This joint effort created new housing for our neighbors without homes while respecting and protecting the integrity of the surrounding neighborhood," Bailey said. "We are excited to share with the nation what can be accomplished when a local government and a faith-based community work together on an issue of vital concern to both.”

Other churches have launched similar projects in recent years.

Central Church of the Nazarene in Southeast Portland, Oregon last summer opened its Agape Village, a community of 15 tiny shelters built on its 11-acre property to house homeless individuals in the area. 

Crossroads Community Baptist Church in McCreary County, Kentucky built 20 tiny homes for recovering addicts in the opioid-stricken area where 32% of the population lives below the poverty line.

Earlier this year, it was reported that Faith Lutheran Church of Forest Lake voted to approve the construction of a tiny house community to help homeless veterans called the “Sacred Settlement." 

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