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Migration Policy: Hunger Policy Podcast December 2021

 

Saturday, December 18, is International Migrants Day, a day set aside by the United Nations to raise awareness and focus attention on the 281 million people around the world where are on the move, in search of peace, stability, security and an opportunity for new life. In 2020, more than 3.6% of people around the world were migrants.

 

Hunger Policy Podcast-Migration (Audio Only)

 

In the US, the latest data we have on hunger and poverty confirms what we had guessed. Hunger is on the rise, poverty is on the rise, and yet neither is quite as high nationally as we thought they would be, due largely to the unprecedented federal legislation that expanded the safety net in the United States. While that is true nationally, that’s not the case for every community and every family here in the US or around the world, however. Immigrant and non-citizens in the US saw a steeper decline in income in 2020. Internationally, migrants are more vulnerable to hunger and poverty than native residents, and migrants experience unique risks when it comes to COVID-19. All this, coupled with the large numbers of people forced to flee their homes worldwide, makes immigration a key conversation we need to be having.

In this podcast, Giovana Oaxaca, the ELCA’s program director for migration policy, joins Ryan Cumming of ELCA World Hunger to talk about the realities of migration and immigration policy. As they describe in this conversation, “immigration policy” refers to more than just who is able to enter the United States, but also to questions about who has access to public benefits, what it means to be a “non-citizen” and how policy changes can impact individuals and communities. Ryan and Giovana also discuss how the COVID-19 pandemic specifically impacted immigration and immigrants in the United States and confront some of the prevailing myths about immigrants and migration.

Prefer to read the interview? Follow this link to access a transcript of the conversation.

Immigration and Migration Links from the Podcast

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Hunger Policy Podcast: May 18, 2021

 

We know that hunger is not just a matter of food but a matter of policy. Public policies impact where our food comes from, the kinds of food we eat, how we acquire food – and what our options are when we don’t have enough. In this new kind of post for the ELCA World Hunger blog, John Johnson, director of domestic policy for the ELCA, joins Ryan Cumming, program director for hunger education with ELCA World Hunger, for a conversation about hunger and policy, including important public policies that could impact people experiencing hunger and poverty in the United States. Links to both the audio and the video are below.

Interested in more conversations like this about hunger and policy? Are there specific public policy issues you’d like to hear about? Let us know! Email Ryan.Cumming@elca.org to share your feedback and ideas.

Subscribe to the ELCA World Hunger blog, and sign up to join the ELCA’s network of advocates.

(If you are one of our regular subscribers to the ELCA World Hunger blog and reading this via email, the audio and video files may not show up. Just click on the title of the post to head over to the main blog webpage to listen in.)

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New! Certificate in Climate Justice and Faith

 

We know that ending hunger will take more than food. Addressing climate change is a critical step in this work. That’s why ELCA World Hunger is excited to share a new opportunity from Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary’s Center for Climate Justice and Faith. The Center’s work focuses on helping leaders learn about sustainability, caring for creation and working for justice so that all can enjoy the abundance of God’s creation.

This Center’s new Certificate in Climate Justice and Faith offers a cohort-based, online trans-continental curriculum which empowers participants to cultivate moral, spiritual, and practical power for leadership in the work of climate justice in communities of faith and in collaboration with others.  Topics covered include theology, ethics, and spirituality; climate change knowledge; and social change practices that connect ecological well-being with racial, economic, and gender justice.

Lay and rostered leaders throughout the Lutheran World Federation communion and from other faith traditions are invited to complete an interest form if you are curious to know more about this inaugural, non-degree learning program scheduled for September 2021 – May 2022.  Long-term collaboration and networking are expected to endure well beyond certificate completion date.

Applications are now open and will be accepted until June 15, 2021. To apply or to learn more, visit https://www.plts.edu/programs/certificates/certificate-in-climate-justice-and-faith.html.

 

 

 

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Lenten Reflection 1: What Will It Take to End Hunger?

 

A Bigger “We”

“Your Father who sees in secret will reward you”
(Matthew 6:4).

 

 

Almost eight years had passed since Marina set foot inside a church building. A car accident when she was in her late 40s had left her homebound with chronic pain and without use of her legs. One of her favorite visits in her home was on Sunday afternoon, when her pastor would come by to give Marina Holy Communion and pray with her. With a half flight of stairs leading up to the church door and more stairs between the foyer and the sanctuary, worshiping with her congregation was not an option.

That’s why Marina was so surprised to get a call from her pastor in July 2020 asking her to be part of a conversation about reopening the building for worship during the COVID-19 pandemic. She was quiet in that first Zoom meeting, listening to the other 10 people share their ideas and concerns. Some were scared, some weren’t, but most were exasperated and at a loss. One man seemed to put it best when he said, “This is all new to us. We’ve just never had to think about what it would mean to not be in church together ever.”

Before anyone could murmur agreement, Marina made her sole contribution to the discussion: “Whaddya mean ‘we’?”

This “we” — or, more specifically, this call to reexamine “we” — is at the core of the gospel message for Ash Wednesday this year and, indeed, of the church’s vision of a just world where all are fed.

Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6:1-6 and 16-21 is the starting point on the journey through Lent. In this excerpt from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus admonishes his audience about public, showy displays of spirituality. Rather than take pleasure or pride in giving alms, we are to hide the deed even from ourselves. Rather than pray in public, we are to retire to private rooms. Rather than display the effects of our fasting, Jesus tells us, “put oil on your head and wash your face” (6:17).

In fact, each of Jesus’ directives seems to contradict the very notion of what we have come to call “being a public church.” The sermon of Jesus appears to favor private spirituality over public displays of faith. He seems to suggest that faith is best lived out in the quiet and private spaces of our hearts rather than in public.

However, reading the sermon in this way misses the fact that the Gospel of Matthew is a call to be this very public church, which will “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). We might believe that the message of Lent is to practice private piety, yet Jesus focuses here not on the mere practices of faith but on the community of faith. In other words, Jesus is talking not about the what but about the who — who we are and who God is.

Michael Joseph Brown hints at this in his commentary on Matthew in True to Our Native Land: An African American New Testament Commentary (Fortress, 2007), noting the subtle assumptions about privilege in Matthew 6. Jesus’ command to the disciples to pray in their “room” (6:6) assumes they have a private room to retreat to, even though Jesus himself “has nowhere to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20). “Almsgiving,” as Brown writes, “assumes that you have something to give.” Even fasting assumes that one has the means to make choices about when to start and stop their own hunger

Jesus’ message is a challenge to a privileged church to think more carefully about who they are. The problem isn’t that they are doing the wrong things. Giving alms to support neighbors is a good thing. Praying in the synagogue is, well, what is supposed to happen when the community is gathered. They are going through the right motions. But they have forgotten why they are doing them, and they have forgotten who they are. Their practices are no longer about the good of the community or the good of the neighbor but are mere performances, focused entirely on themselves.

Almsgiving, praying, fasting — these are practices meant to remind us of each other. But has being faithful become a matter of making sure we are seen rather than of training our hearts and minds to see each other? Marina’s fellow congregant in the Zoom call was more than willing to help the church with what it needed to do. But as her question revealed, he had forgotten who the church is called to be. His “we” was no more than an “I.”

Yet even when the church forgets, God remembers. In each of the dictates to his followers, Jesus reminds them of the “Father who sees in secret.” He reminds us that God’s concern for us is not measured by our conspicuousness, nor is it limited by our narrow imagination.

Accompanying our neighbors in God’s work of building a just world where all are fed means reimagining who we are and who we are called to be. There are so many stories shared across this church about friends and neighbors addressing hunger and poverty together. But perhaps the significance of faith in God, who “sees in secret,” is best exemplified not by the stories we can tell but by the stories we can’t — stories of God at work “in secret” and in hidden ways. These are the stories we don’t hear, of neighbors whose names can’t be shared.

They include the story of the clinic that cannot be named because unjust laws would put its noncitizen clients at risk. They include the story of women in a shelter whose names must be hidden to keep the women safe from their abusers. They include the story of ministries in conflict zones whose details cannot be shared without exposing workers and guests to violence.

These are the stories that cannot be trumpeted but are nevertheless triumphant examples of the work of God, “who sees in secret.”

Ending hunger means seeing what unjust power tries to keep hidden. It means defining “we” in a way that threatens the principalities and powers — including our own privilege — that make everything about “I.” And it means remembering, when we are isolated or marginalized, that “I” am never excluded from God’s “we.”

Jesus’ call in the Gospel reading reminds us that being the church requires a definition of community that is more expansive, more diverse and, thus, more beautiful than the exclusive vision put forth by
those in power.

Reflection Questions

  1. Think, journal or share about a time when you felt left out or unable to speak because of fear. How does that memory impact your reflection on this reading and devotion?
  2. The members of Marina’s church were unable to see that their ability to climb stairs gave them the privilege to gather together in one space. The members of the ancient church to which Jesus was speaking were unable to see that their ability to give alms, fast and pray in private rooms was a privilege. What are some ways that privilege might affect who feels included in your community?
  3. What does your church community look like? In what ways are all neighbors in your community invited to share their experiences and ideas openly and freely with your congregation?

Prayer

Gracious and loving God, through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, you bring light and life for all the world. Help us to listen, learn and love until your light and life fill every community. Amen.

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“We Come to the Hungry Feast”: Hunger Advocacy in Arizona Videos

 

This Fall, ELCA World Hunger was invited to join leaders from Arizona via Zoom at the first statewide gathering of advocates and friends hosted by Lutheran Advocacy Ministry Arizona (LAMA).

LAMA is the newest State Public Policy Office of the ELCA, in partnership with the Grand Canyon Synod, ELCA World Hunger and Lutheran Social Services of the Southwest. LAMA joins a network of 15 public policy offices operating in 18 states. This network is a critical part of the work of ELCA Advocacy. On a state level, LAMA and the other state public policy offices amplify the voices of Lutherans for fair and equitable policies on housing, education, health care, employment and so much more. Working for just policies is an important way people of faith participate in God’s work of building a just world where all are fed.

John Johnson, program director for domestic policy for the ELCA, highlights the importance of this work to the work God calls this church to pursue:

Our return on investment for advocacy is one of the great untold successes of the ELCA. Our federal and state advocacy leverages BILLIONS of public dollars annually for vulnerable populations at home and abroad. In 2020, with COVID-19 recovery packages in Congress, Lutherans have engaged policy makers to the tune of trillions of dollars.
Below are recordings of the Summit presentations from Ryan P. Cumming, program director of hunger education for ELCA World Hunger, and Angie Rogers, president and CEO of the Arizona Food Bank Network.
Angie Rodgers spoke about the state of hunger in Arizona, the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ways Lutherans can make a difference through advocacy.

 

Ryan Cumming spoke about the importance of advocacy in the work and mission of the church and the difference between responding to hunger and ending it.

 

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In Memory of Rev. George Johnson

 

As many of you may already know, Rev. George Johnson, one of the foundational leaders of ELCA World Hunger has died. For seven years (1980-1987) George served as Director of the World Hunger Program for the former American Lutheran Church (now ELCA). Pr. Johnson rooted the then American Lutheran Church’s Hunger program, which would grow into ELCA World Hunger, on a foundation of justice. The ELCA World Hunger staff give thanks to God for his life and his service to the church.

George taught that a sustained life-long commitment to justice must start with one’s worship life. While this may not sound radical at first read, it was a bold statement in his time and is worth taking the time to explore what it means for life in 2020. It can be easy to relegate the work we do towards a just world where all are fed to something that is done outside of Sunday service. It is easy to look at our soup kitchens, meal packing programs, community gardens, job training programs, advocacy work, and more as standalone ministries, not as the central work of the church that flows from the shared songs and prayers of Sunday worship.

For George, creating a just world where all are fed started not with the chopping of vegetables for a soup supper or picking up the phone to call your congressperson, it stated with the songs, teaching, and prayers shared in worship. George’s work and life serve as a reminder of what it means to live into that Sunday promise of justice and carry it out into the world.

So, it is fitting that George’s final work from his very long and prolific life explores various theological understandings of justice that people can use to ground their personal and communal lives of worship in the justice that Christ preached. To celebrate Pr. Johnson’s life and service to ELCA World Hunger, here is an excerpt from the preface to his final book, No Time for Silence:

I HAVE ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE. Nothing to brag about, nothing to be ashamed about, and I see no reason to be silent about it. My brain served me well for eighty-five years, but now it has more and more difficulty remembering things.  I decided not to spend the remaining days of my life dwelling on what I have lost. Instead, I want to give people resources that will help them think and act critically in an age of confusion and conflicting voices. While I come from a Christian background, the points in this book pertain to people of all faiths, cultures, races, and genders.  The main premises of Silence Is Not the Answer are for all people to read and act on. I have read widely these past years about theology, politics, and suffering and its root causes. I cannot recall all that I have learned, but I can refer you to authors and spiritual leaders who I believe will challenge your preconceptions and give you hope for the future. One of my favorite authors and theologians at this stage in my life is Marcus J. Borg. His book Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary is a masterful portrayal of the historical Jesus and emerging Christianity. He explores the way Jesus resisted the domination system of the Roman empire power of his day. For Borg, both the personal and the political dimensions of Jesus’s message are important for understanding the revolutionary aspects of his life and teaching. I highly recommend Borg’s book if you want to understand who Jesus is for Christians today.

Another theologian I find inspiring is Leonardo Boff, a Roman Catholic priest from Brazil whose speaking out about the suffering of the poor and the death of millions in Latin America made head-line news. Despite attempts by the church to silence Boff because his speech was offensive to the establishment, his message made a difference. Boff’s book When Theology Listens to the Poor is a call for the modern church to create a better option for the poor. He points out how Mark 26:11, “The poor you will always have with you,” is used to support the status quo and creates an attitude of fatalism, pessimism, and cynicism that destroys any hope that things could be different.  However, Boff argues that the true meaning of this verse is that the opportunity to help is always there. Boff reminds us that when Jesus offered a better option for the poor, he was making it clear that God acts to free people from the bondage of poverty and oppression. It is the prophetic task of the church to do the same. Some people may say, “I don’t remember George espousing such progressive positions in his previous writings. Has he changed his mind?” In the past, I sometimes felt that I didn’t have enough information about an issue, that others had good points too, that I  should wait to see what happened and that my voice wouldn’t make a  difference.  But these excuses allowed bad choices to be made that cause suffering for our brothers and sisters.  As Brian McLaren says in his book The Great Spiritual Migration, we are all in the process of development. Sometimes new wine needs new wineskins, as Larry Rasmussen says. I have a certain perspective. My education and life experience have shaped my thinking and analyses. Others will see things differently. I respect that. But as Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel says, “What hurts the victim most is not the cruelty of the oppressor but the silence of the bystander.”

We need to read and listen attentively and then speak out for causes that we think are important. John the Baptist is described in the Gospels as “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness.” He calls us to “repent,” wake up and change.  Silence Is Not the Answer is a collection of prophetic voices urging us to wake up, notice what is happening, and take a stand. Our world today is filled with fear, conflict, war, and confusion. I encourage you to read the writers in this book with an open mind and think about their urgent cry. Some points will be made more than once.  Some truths are worth repeating. When I say to my wife, “I love you,” I am glad that Vivian does not say, “George, you already told me that. “When I began putting this book together, my wife said, “With your diminished hearing and eyesight and your memory problems, are you able to tackle another book?” Maybe not, but some things need to be said as we move toward the 2020 elections and beyond. So, with the help of Vivian and a professional editor, I collected some pieces written by myself and others to let our voices be heard and break the silence. If we remain silent, then our leaders and fellow citizens will not wake up and change course.  We must speak up and act now before our society is beyond saving

 

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Juneteenth: We Will Breathe

by Joe Davis

Juneteenth commemorates a day when my ancestors could breath a little more freely. On June 19, 1865, in Galveston, Texas, enslaved Africans were read federal orders that they were freed, even though the Emancipation Proclamation was signed over two years prior. They didn’t know they were free because, in spite of the law, they were still brutalized by those who weaponized power. This was this liberatory announcement that initiated the joyful reunion of long-separated loved ones and the work of reconstructing after centuries of being held down by the harsh American slave system. 

Today, families of African descent throughout the United States celebrate this Freedom Day, which gave us a brief moment to inhale deeper than before. However, as a Black artist and educator living in Minneapolis, MN during an uprising that has sparked freedom demonstrations around the world, I know that oppressive powers have only shifted their weight on the necks of vulnerable Black bodies as we cried out to breathe. 

I can only imagine how profoundly the Giver of all life and breath (1) must become enraged and grief-stricken every time the breath in our bodies is snuffed out by violent power. But I needn’t imagine this response, as Jesus incarnated this reality when he protested abusive authority decrying those holding power through violence as hypocrites and snakes (2) and damaged temple property when it was being valued more than the humanity of his people (3). Although divisive and controversial to corrupt religious leaders and exploitative lawmakers, Jesus embodied a form of justice not rooted in revenge or retribution, but instead in restoration and healing. Even though he could have commanded an army of angels to battle on his behalf (4) his love for the most vulnerable was held so deeply in his body that he lived and died among them in a communion of shared vulnerability. Jesus gave his all, his last breath, to empower them, and to empower us, to rise again. His desire was that we would all be freed from the grips of power-hoarding, death-dealing systems and breathe in the abundance of life-affirming community. 

Jesus intensely understood the soul wound and how violence, at its core, is a spilling over of trauma and suffering from one body to another. Resmaa Manekem, body-centered therapist and author of My Grandmother’s Hand: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies, describes the soul wound as trauma routinely passed on from person to person and from generation to generation. The only way to stop the cyclical pattern is not punitive force but reparative action and a commitment to the practice and process of healing. This calls for the healing of the oppressor and the oppressed, as stated by Dr. Joi Lewis, Twin Cities healer, author, and founder of the Healing Justice Foundation. Dr Lewis states, “Oppression is not an inevitable state of affairs and no human being would agree to oppress another person or agree to be oppressed if they weren’t already hurt.” 

The wounds of violence reach the innermost essence of our beings, it viscerally impacts our flesh and becomes ritualized in every part of society and culture from policing to politics. When we heal the systems that live inside of us, then we can also heal the systems that live outside of us. And that is the path to collective liberation that Jesus calls us all to embody (5). 

Juneteenth, also known as Jubilee Day, speaks to this call, an ancestral echo of the struggle for freedom heard in the litany of voices throughout history. If we listen, we can hear it resonating in the song of Moses, Aaron, and Miriam—among countless other scriptural leaders —organizing themselves and their people to escape the slave system of pharaohs and kings who denied their demands for human dignity until death was too close to home (6). Once their lungs were no longer constricted by the tyrannical rule of empire, they had enough space to breathe new life into prophetic visions of Jubilee, where prisoners could be liberated, debts forgiven, and the land renewed (7). 

I long to live in a world not of crippling dependence on guns and cages as lethal enforcers of systemic injustice, but a world where our bodies and our institutions rise with the deep, slow rhythms of healing. We don’t live in that world yet, but it’s worth working for with every breath we have.


Joe Davis is a nationally-touring artist, educator, and speaker based in Minneapolis, MN, whose work employs poetry, music, theater, and dance to shape culture. He is the Founder and Director of multimedia production company, The New Renaissance, the frontman of emerging soul funk band, The Poetic Diaspora, and qualified administrator of the Intercultural Development Inventory. He has keynoted, facilitated conversation, and served as teaching artist at hundreds of high schools and universities including New York, Boston, and most recently as the Artist-in-Residence at Luther Seminary where he received a Masters in Theology of the Arts.


1: Genesis 2:7 (CEB) the Lord God formed the human from the topsoil of the fertile land and blew life’s breath into his nostrils. The human came to life. 

2: Matthew 23 (CEB) Jesus Calls Out the Legal Experts and Religious Leaders; Matthew 12:34 (CEB) Children of snakes! How can you speak good things while you are evil? What fills the heart comes out of the mouth. 

3: Matthew 21: 12 (CEB) Then Jesus went into the temple and threw out all of those who were selling and buying there. He pushed over the tables used for currency exchange and the chairs of those who sold doves. 

4: Psalms 91:12 and Matthew 4:6 

5: Luke 17:20-21Pharisees asked Jesus when God’s kingdom was coming. He replied, God’s kingdom isn’t coming with signs that are easily noticed. Nor will people say, ‘Look, here it is!’ Or ‘There is!’ Don’t you see? God’s kingdom is already among you. 

6: Exodus 12:29-50 

7: Leviticus 25: 8-18

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Fair Housing and Everyday Jericho Roads- ELCA Advocacy Action Alert!

 

Brooke De Jong is the Program Assistant for Hunger Education with ELCA World Hunger. Previous to this position she worked managing grants from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for a housing agency in Chicago, IL. 

When it comes to responding to homelessness in our congregations, often there is a will but not a way. We would help if we only knew how to do it safely, if we could guarantee that our money was not going to support an addiction, if we had more time to understand best practices and so on. Fear causes us to freeze and walk or drive past the neighbor in need on our everyday Jericho roads. We all have been the Priest and the Levite when we wanted to be the Good Samaritan. And sometimes we have been the person victimized on the hazardous road, waiting for our Good Samaritan.

However, many congregations do great work. They support shelters, make kits with important items such as clean socks and personal care products, act as warming shelters in the winter and more. Some even actively advocate for fair housing and oppose laws that criminalize poverty. Some of us have even made personal care kits or stood on a picket line – but still drive past the person with the cardboard sign standing on the median.

We all walk different Jericho roads every day seeing or not seeing and responding to or not responding to our neighbors without homes. Sometimes we are the Priest and the Levite and the Good Samaritan all in one day or even in a span of a few hours. This is what it means to be human and in need of God’s grace.

But just because we are afraid and in daily need of God’s grace, we should not forget our baptismal calling and duty as citizens. The ELCA social statement on Church and Society says we are daily called to be “[. . .] wise and active citizens. [. . .] Along with all citizens, Christians have the responsibility to defend human rights and to work for freedom, justice, peace, environmental well-being, and good order in public life. They are to recognize the vital role of law in protecting life and liberty and in upholding the common good.”

Our neighbors without homes are in need of our actions as wise and active citizens.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in January proposed a new rule that would weaken oversight and national data collection on fair housing projects. This rule change would disproportionately affect low-income communities of color. Under the proposed rule change the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule (AFFH) that was first designed to help communities promote diversity and inclusivity under the 1968 Fair Housing Act and take proactive steps to reverse the effects of housing segregation would be rendered almost completely ineffectual.

Read more about the AFFH Rule here.

To join with others in opposing this rule change, check out the ELCA Advocacy Action Alert here.

 

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HUD’s Rule Change Ends Proactive Anti-Housing Segregation Measures

 

Brooke De Jong is the author of this post and the Program Assistant for Hunger Education with ELCA World Hunger. Previous to this position she worked managing grants from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for a housing agency in Chicago, IL. 

 

The work towards economic and racial justice has never been easy. Making long-term sustainable and transformative changes is even harder. This is especially true in the areas of housing and homelessness. According to the latest Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) data collected in January 2019, Chicago alone had 5,290 people without homes. But what is more concerning is that 1,026 or 19% of persons without homes in Chicago were white but 4,674 or 88% persons without homes in Chicago were people of color.

As we emerged from the holidays and rolled into the new year, news broke that HUD is proposing to repeal a 2015 fair housing rule, or the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule, that could make this disparity worse.

What is the proposed change and why does it matter?

The proposal to repeal of the 2015 AFFH rule repeals a definition of fair housing that actively sought to reverse the effects of housing segregation and changes the definition of fair housing to “advancing fair housing choice within the program participant’s control or influence.” Under Secretary Ben Carson, HUD would now define fair housing as the ability to choose one’s housing and end proactive measures that sought to reverse the effects of housing segregation. Without the proper tools, training and financial support, many communities will not be able to continue the hard but important work towards ending housing segregation.

Housing segregation is a serious problem in the United States. In short, where someone lives is important. Where someone lives determines the quality of education, jobs, medical care, access to supportive services, food quality and more. Ultimately where some lives can impact a person’s ability to thrive. In segregated communities, like that of Chicago, often what happens is a concentration of the above items in more white and affluent areas and a decreased density of these crucial services in areas that have higher rates of poverty and large populations of people of color. Housing segregation has many devastating effects but the most sinister is the ability of housing segregation to create a never-ending cycle of poverty. If we  are serious about our mission to create a just world where all are fed, ending housing segregation is an important piece of the puzzle.

What is the “Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing” Rule?

Let’s start first with what a rule is, why we have them and how they come about. Rules are created and used by United States government agencies, like HUD, to help staff and related programs effectively interpret and implement laws passed by congress. Often, laws passed by Congress leave a lot of room for the agency to determine how to put a law into practice. So, rules are created to guide the work of the agency, evaluate its grant programs and to prioritize spending.

In the case of the AFFH rule, the US Congress has passed several laws that govern how HUD does its work and spends its money. All of these major laws contain language directing HUD to prevent discrimination in its housing programs and create programs that actively implement fair housing practices. While the laws are clear that housing discrimination is illegal, it is not clear from these laws how HUD is supposed to go about developing fair housing programs. Therefore, it is up to every administration and HUD secretary to define what these affirmative sections of our housing laws look like in practice.

In the case of the 2015 AFFH rule implemented by then-HUD Secretary Julian Castro and the Obama administration, this looked like taking proactive steps to reverse the effects of decades of housing segregation created by redlining, discriminatory and predatory mortgage lending practices, and community disinvestment. This involved defining fair housing as:

taking meaningful actions that, taken together, address significant disparities in housing needs and in access to opportunity, replacing segregated living patterns with truly integrated and balanced living patterns, transforming racially and ethnically concentrated areas of poverty into areas of opportunity, and fostering and maintaining compliance with civil rights and fair housing laws creating new sophisticated mapping and data tools for communities requiring extensive reporting on systemic housing segregation.

When this definition went into effect in 2015 as part of the AFFH rule, HUD had a new mandate: create new mapping tools and training programs to help communities understand the effects of systemic segregation and begin evaluating grant programs based on how effective they were at reversing systemic segregation. Communities and housing authorities that did well were awarded more money and others who failed to meet the new standards would see their funding cut or the program would find themselves under HUD monitoring.

Why would HUD propose this change?

HUD is proposing this change because it says, among other things, the 2015 rule is too burdensome on communities and programs.

As a former HUD grants administrator, I can see why HUD might be choosing to repeal such a complex rule. Because the thought of a regulation change still makes me feel a deep sense of dread. It is difficult to convey the amount of work and stress that comes with managing HUD grants. But I think it is important to try in order to better grasp and evaluate HUD’s stated reasoning for this rule change.

Many housing agencies administering HUD programs and funding, including the one worked at, are greatly understaffed and underfunded. As the grants manager, it is your responsibility to know HUD rules and regulations inside and out and make sure staff are following them. The bills and regulations that govern a single type of HUD funding can number into the thousands of pages. A violation of those regulations can result in loss of funding and mass eviction of those your agency serves.

Changes in how data is collected and how HUD defines different terms, both of which are part of this proposed rule change, can affect your ability to house people. In short, working on HUD grants and implementing rule changes means the lives of the most vulnerable depend on you doing your job well. That is a heavy burden that many grant administrators and other HUD program administrators carry.

Nevertheless, this burden is one I often carried with pride. The work my agency did to provide housing and supportive services to the most vulnerable populations in Chicago, was a direct result of the funding I was able to secure and manage. HUD rules like the AFFH rule, which it is proposing to repeal, made sure we were making long-term transformative and sustainable changes in the communities we served. That made a difference to me when I was up until 2 am trying to make grant submission deadlines.

In Summary

It is true the 2015 rule did place a heavy burden on HUD programs and administrators. Many programs reported to HUD that the current AFFH process required lengthy report submissions ranging from 200 to 800 pages. Many communities also had to hire outside contractors and spend vital funds on the completion of these reports. It is important and right that HUD should listen to their feedback.

However, HUD also needs to take a look at themselves. HUD never completed the mapping tools and training it promised these communities. These mapping tools and training would have been vital to the success of the 2015 AFFH rule.

So, if something is not working or is difficult and you have not made the proper investment, you don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. In other words, despite some of the failures and difficulties of this 2015 AFFH rule, HUD should not ignore or give up on its mandate to make a positive impact on communities in the realm of fair housing and housing segregation. And HUD certainly should not give up on this mandate because it failed to provide the adequate funding and support these communities and programs needed.

 

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Vocation, Calls and the Gathering

by: Sophia Behrens

The ELCA Youth Gathering is an excellent resource for youth to explore their vocations. After attending the 2018 Gathering, I had a better understanding of how big our church was. I also realized that youth can have an empowering opinion about their faith life and how to carry that voice out through our vocations. The Gathering gave me a space to further explore my vocational call of social justice.

I’ve been involved in social justice issues since middle school, beginning with learning about women’s rights and later expanding horizons to be more involved with social justice issues relating to world hunger and diverse representation. The Gathering aided me in finding a way to better connect these issues to my faith life. During my Interactive Learning day, I was able to explore and talk with different organizations and ministries of the ELCA in the social justice space from immigration law to advocating for a better life for farmers across the globe. Along with my peers, I learned how I can get involved with these organizations. 

For me, the speakers at Mass Gathering emphasized the importance of faith communities and the support they give in relation to an individual’s vocation. We heard from strong speakers about a range of subjects, but the one that still sticks out to me over a year later is Maria Rose Belding. Maria founded and directs MEANS database, which helps distribute food across the country. Her words about the struggles of being a teenager and finding a way to fix and advocate for a unique problem inspired and reminded me of my vocation and how to find parallels with faith life and vocation instead of keeping them separate. 

While these were the areas of the Gathering that inspired me personally, there were countless other activities and speakers that could speak to other youth which is what creates the vast outreach of the Gathering.

 

Sophia Behrens is a freshman at Valparasio University. Throughout high school, Sophia was active in the ELCA Youth Core Leadership Team, her home congregation, and supporting ELCA World Hunger. Sophia was also a part of the 2021 Theme Discernment team for the ELCA Youth Gathering

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