Aloha UMC partnering with community to help with housing crisis
Feeling called by scriptures to serve the “least among us” and understand what it truly means to be a good neighbor, Aloha United Methodist Church intends to become a host site for a new, well-maintained houseless village on its property.
The congregation has been exploring building low-income affordable housing for more than 20 years, according to pastor Keren Rodriguez. However, the concept of the tiny home – pod – village has cropped up in just the last year as the demand for services has increased dramatically.
“Throughout scripture Jesus teaches us that we are to serve those on the margins and as followers of Christ we are called to act our faith,” Rodriguez said. “Affordable housing – or a lack of access to affordable housing – is a social justice issue that must be addressed if we want to make our communities a better place for everyone to call home. I’m proud of our congregation for engaging in this deep, life-giving work.”
To accomplish this goal, Aloha UMC is partnering with Washington County and Leaven Community to establish a village on its church property that will offer temporary, transitional housing for those moving from homelessness to housed.
This will be a temporary shelter, according to Washington County officials, while more permanent housing solutions are created within the county. The pods will not be in place for more than two years.
Modeling other pod villages that have cropped up at other churches and in communities across the Pacific Northwest, this village will be staffed 24-hours, tenants will be held to account for maintaining their properties, and there will be social workers available to help tenants work toward removing barriers that prevent them from accessing affordable housing options.
Washington County officials tapped Aloha UMC as a good partner because of its proximity to city services, such as public transportation and grocery stores. There is currently a large gap between the need and availability of affordable housing in the Aloha area, with only one temporary shelter operating in Beaverton.
In recent years, Washington County Department of Housing officials report that because of Aloha UMC’s proximity to public services, unofficial encampments have cropped near the property. These new housing pods will monitored and fenced off to assist with security and curb appeal.
Aloha is one of the many churches in the Columbia District of the Conference that has taken on the ministry of addressing the affordable housing crisis, according to District Superintendent, Rev. Tim Overton-Harris. Whether its creating space for pod housing, helping houseless college students with sheltering, or building affordable housing complexes on unused parcels of church land, United Methodists in and around Portland are getting to work.
“This is what it means to be the hands and feet of Christ in our world today – addressing the real needs of the communities in which we serve,” Overton-Harris said. “Too many of our siblings are living on the margins of society and God knows we have to act. Our churches understand that for people to feel physically, mentally, and spiritually nourished, the first thing they have to do is have a roof over their heads. I’m proud of Aloha UMC for engaging in this transformative work.”
Volunteers from Aloha UMC, along with staff from Leaven Community and Washington County Department of Housing Services are working with neighbors to create “good neighbor” covenants between the development and those who live in proximity of the church.
Rev. Julia Nielsen, director of Leaven Land and Housing Coalition said that after the state itself, faith communities own the largest collective amount of land in Oregon, including more than 600 developable acres in Washington County alone.
“We have real power to really move the needle on the 36,000 units of housing needed right now, if churches join Aloha UMC by courageously responding to this housing crisis,” said Nielsen, an ordained deacon in The Oregon-Idaho Conference said. “Faith communities could end this crisis if everyone had the same will. I'm grateful for Pastor Keren's vision and leadership.”