Archive for May, 2013

God Is An Urban Developer

May 31, 2013
A centralized park with a gazebo and walkways  are nestled under the canopy of mature live oak trees in Hampton Park.

A centralized park with a gazebo and walkways are nestled under the canopy of mature live oak trees in Hampton Park.

 

By Michael Joe Murphy

The vision of Isaiah 65:21, “They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit,” reminds me of my friend Frank.

Frank – not his real name – is so proud of his home. He owns it (well, he’s paying a mortgage).

Frank, a prayerful man, was told long ago by co-workers that he would never own a home, let alone in a “good” part of Orlando. In the break room at a factory, co-workers would laugh at Frank, ridiculing his “pipe dreams” about buying a house.

My friend will attribute the opportunity to own property and a structure solely to God. Frank is right: The house is a blessing from God.

But God didn’t just lift a finger one day and zap a house for Frank.

Frank’s house – his story – is about properly engaging the talents of others, and empowering them. (In the parlance of “Dignity Serves” training, this is the true heart of service). It’s about learning to trust God more deeply, to build dignified interdependence when seeking to help others. And it also is a reminder of our mission as people of God, as servants of creation (Genesis 2:15): To serve it and to keep it.

A ‘NEW CREATION’

The foundation for Frank’s opportunity to buy a house was built on a rock of enlightened public officials committed to end distressed public housing, for a “new creation” of community.

I enjoy a special vantage point on Frank’s house: For nearly a quarter of a century, I was a member of a newspaper editorial board. We were always briefed and in the loop about issues and events, usually before they became “news.”

Everyone knew of Orange Villa, a collection of 100 World War II-vintage public-housing units originally built as temporary.

Fast-forward to the mid-1990s:

These awful units would be demolished. Lead-based paint – kids like to chew on painted wood, as I did as a toddler – primed walls inside and out. Then there was asbestos aplenty. It was Termite City. And it would be financially prohibitive to rehab the units.

Residents were either relocated to other public housing units or chose to relocate out of public housing. So, this is how God (and God’s people) act as urban planners:

City fathers, mothers and the Orlando Housing Authority took advantage of a grant to lessen the concentration of poverty, to replace the likes of Orange Villa, to empower people to own affordable housing.

And Frank kept praying.

EMPOWERING RENTERS TO BE OWNERS

Early in the first decade of the 21st century, there was a God connection. The why’s and when’s don’t much matter. The how’s of homeownership do matter. To fulfill a dream. To empower renters to become owners.

There were individual counseling and extensive homeownership-training classes. A counselor worked with folks like Frank to resolve any credit problems, inform them of fair housing rights and predatory lending practices, and to find available sources of mortgage-assistance funds. There were partnerships with lenders and real-estate agents to streamline “the process” and make things easier to understand for first-time buyers.

The help did not end when Frank and his family inserted the key into the lock and opened the doorway to their dream home. Then came post-purchase counseling and foreclosure-prevention services.

Frank lives in Hampton Park (formerly Orange Villa).  He doesn’t need a car. He is a block away from his job at an urban dairy. A Winn-Dixie is within walking distance. Frank has taught me so much about faith and determination. He is proudly “blue collar,” as I grew up. A snappy dresser, he “owns the look.” I emulate his fashion and his faith. He buoys me.

STABILITY FROM GOOD NEIGHBORS

The amenities Frank enjoys are light years away from South Atlanta. People frequently read these Dignity Serves blogs for posts from that Georgia city by Dan Crain, an urban minister. He and his family join what God is doing in South Atlanta with all of its residents, especially those who live on the streets.

As Dan knows, God isn’t manifest in an urban redo or gentrification. He is manifest in people, their presence.

South Atlanta is economically distressed. Dan and his community feel the detrimental effect of a transient neighborhood, as residents move away all the time. When folks rent a house, there is little investment in the street; when people buy, it brings stability. Dan and his wife are buying a home in South Atlanta, as Frank and his wife became homeowners in Orlando’s Hampton Park.

Human dominion over creation is an exercise of God’s own kingship, whether we are Christian or others who practice a pattern that commits us to humble reflection of the character of God.

Edgar Guest famously wrote, “It takes a heap o’ livin’ in a house t’ make it home.”

It also takes “a heap o’ livin’” by caring people, like Frank, Dan Crain and urban developers, to make a positive difference – to empower people to achieve their dreams and beyond.

Good neighbors are important. No matter where we live.

“Go … and be a blessing … and all nations will be blessed through you.”  (Genesis 12: 1-3).

Michael Joe Murphy

Michael Joe Murphy

Michael Joe Murphy, a volunteer for the Polis Institute, can be reached at MichaelJoeMurphy@gmail.com.

Consider signing up for Dignity Serves, a six-week course that helps you rethink the way we serve others in our community. It teaches you to see problems differently and respond in a way that empowers those you serve rather than just meeting their immediate needs.

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