Posts Tagged ‘low-income housing’
Jesuit Father Fred Enman became a Jesuit because of a calling within his calling. When he realized during college that he wanted to be a priest and practice poverty law, he says, “It became clear to me that the obvious thing to do was to join the Society of Jesus.”
On April 21, Fr. Enman was honored for his work with the poor when he received the Madonna Della Strada Award from the Ignatian Volunteer Corps (IVC) New England. As executive director and founder of Matthew 25, Fr. Enman and his volunteers rehabilitate abandoned houses in the Boston area to create affordable rental housing for low-income people. In addition, Fr. Enman serves as assistant dean and chaplain of Boston College Law School.
The idea for Matthew 25, which has rehabbed 11 houses since 1994, came to Fr. Enman while he was reading “The True Church and the Poor,” in which Jesuit Father Jon Sobrino wrote that Christians must make Gospel values real in the lives of the poor. The theologian singled out Matthew 25, which proclaims that people shall be judged on whether they fed the hungry, clothed the naked, cared for the sick, visited the imprisoned and welcomed the stranger in their midst.
“I was in my room and I was so moved by what I was reading that I put the book down and prayed about it,” recalled Fr. Enman. “Jesuits are encouraged from time to time to make a resolution at the end of a prayer, so what I resolved was that if I had a chance someday to make Matthew 25 concrete, I would do so.”
In 1988, Fr. Enman had that chance when he created a pastoral project for a class and proposed Matthew 25, with a mission to provide food and housing relief. Through yard sales, Fr. Enman raised money that went to food relief efforts here and abroad — and a small amount was set aside to start up Matthew 25. He continued to raise money while teaching at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., and by 1994, Matthew 25 was able to buy and rehabilitate its first abandoned home in Worcester.
Since then, Matthew 25 has restored nine more houses in Worcester and one in Boston, renting them to the poor at affordable prices. Fr. Enman said that most of the work has been done by volunteers, including students from Holy Cross and Boston College, parish and youth groups from local churches and the IVC.
Fr. Enman said his work with Matthew 25 has enabled him to see a “great connection between a Jesuit vocation and the ethical values that are developed in Scripture.” He added, “It’s very practical what we are called to in taking care of the basic needs of human beings in terms of food, shelter and clothing. Everyone in the community has a responsibility.”
One house, one family and one community at a time. That’s how Jesuit Brother Mike Wilmot approaches his goal to help alleviate poverty and stabilize neighborhoods in North Omaha, Neb., through his Gesu Housing, Inc. ministry.
Gesu Housing’s mission is to build and sell high-quality, affordable, energy-efficient homes to people who are hard-working and have a good credit rating, but who live below the area’s 80 percent median family income and are therefore considered low-income by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. “In the process, we believe we are also re-building a community in North Omaha,” Br. Wilmot says.
The origins of Gesu Housing can be traced to 1994, when Br. Wilmot returned from serving Sudanese refugees in Northern Uganda to help build Omaha’s Jesuit Middle School. There, he worked with Phil McKeon, a former student of his at Creighton Prep in Omaha, and the school’s concrete contractor. Recognizing the energy efficiency benefits that poured concrete walls could provide and feeling a calling to help the area’s working poor realize the dream of home ownership, Br. Wilmot began building concrete houses with McKeon, and Gesu Housing was born in 2002.
Since then, Gesu Housing has turned to building wood frame houses because they are less expensive, but its goal of building energy-efficient homes remains.
Br. Wilmot chose to start building in his own neighborhood, Clifton Hills, where he and several Jesuits have their residence. This sets Gesu Housing apart from other low-income homebuilders because it’s part of the community. The community has a significant need, with “plenty of vacant lots, a lack of home ownership and noticeable urban decay,” Br. Wilmot says.
The neighborhood also qualifies as a “low-to moderate-income” area, per government guidelines. After qualifying for federal grants through the Omaha Planning Department, hopeful families are then able to take out a mortgage. The goal is to have these families own a higher-quality, more attractive house than much of the lower-income housing that is available – for a monthly payment of approximately $600. Because the federal grant and homeowner loan do not cover the cost of each house, Gesu depends on fundraising for the rest.
Br. Wilmot says that with proper funding, the goal is to build six houses each year. “We will fight to continue this improvement one neighborhood at a time.”
Each home closing is a reminder of why Br. Wilmot does this work. “It’s incredibly rewarding to give the keys for a new house to a family or individual who has worked hard to reach this dream,” he says.
For more on Gesu Housing and Br. Wilmot, visit the Wisconsin Province website.