Catholic Charities addresses affordable housing shortage

September 13, 2019

Robert Wade is a resident at Monsignor Bishop Manor. He first called on Catholic Charities of Central Florida (CCCF) eight years ago when he needed a house he and his wife could afford. She died this past Spring, making the rent out of his reach. Once again, Catholic Charities stepped in. “When my wife died, I didn’t know which way to go and Catholic Charities was there for me all the time,” said Wade. “I asked the Lord to help me and he did.”

Wade’s experience is not unique. Orlando is the top city nationwide with the least affordable housing with “13 affordable and available rental homes for every 100 extremely low income renter households,” according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s March 2019 report. To address the issue, CCCF is throwing its hat into the ring, hoping to provide additional units for those in need.

Gary Tester, CCCF president, recently announced the creation of a property management company “to bring the ministries of Catholic Charities to the world of property management.” He added, “We hope to begin to become more involved in the management of diocesan affordable housing for seniors and families; to create new affordable housing; and to acquire additional housing… so that on all fronts we’re doing what we can to make housing more available.”

“It is important for Catholic Charities to be involved in affordable housing because there’s such a crisis in our area right now,” said Adriana Valencia, new director of property management services. “We have more than 98,000 families who are living above their means. Rent has skyrocketed recently, so the products that we do have and manage, we want to conserve and save for those families that we’re assisting through other ministries.” She added, “The preservation and creation of affordable housing goes hand in hand with our ministry. We provide other services to those needing assistance and housing was one of the major challenges at this point.”

Tester concurred, “We know affordable housing is a crisis in Central Florida. Many of our ministries have historically been geared toward helping individuals who are homeless or precariously housed or in danger of losing good housing because of financial difficulties. It just seemed like a logical place for us to go, given everything we do ultimately ties back to someone and their ability to be housed.”

Like Wade, Valencia speaks from personal experience. “I grew up in affordable housing all my life. My parents were migrant farm workers, so we lived in migrant camps. The experience was like no other. I really didn’t even know that I was living in affordable housing,” recalls Valencia. “We had plenty of green space, neighbors, and everybody knew everybody.” That was before laws changed and liability increased. Valencia hopes to bring that positive experience back and into new sites under the Catholic Charities umbrella. She says, “We’re all the same. The only difference is what we pay monthly.”

Catholic Charities already provides affordable diocesan housing for seniors in Orlando (St. Joseph Garden Courts) and St. Cloud (St. Anthony Garden Courts), managed through other entities. Both facilities are intentionally located near parishes to enable faith enrichment and spiritual growth. Recently, CCCF took over management of Monsignor Bishop Manor, an apartment complex serving families located next to St. Andrew Parish in Orlando. Tester explained Catholic Charities has also applied to become a recognized and approved Housing and Urban Development (HUD) property manager. “That is our long-term goal – to become HUD-approved so we can begin to provide our version of ministry management at St. Joseph Garden Court and other diocesan properties over time.” He is working with the City of Orlando to acquire additional properties.

“I know the day to day, paycheck to paycheck situation, so we try very hard to help our residents,” emphasizes Valencia. “Just knowing their daily struggles, and how hard it is, even though we provide affordable rent –to combine that with their income and any emergency situation that may arise and might throw them off… We are very fortunate that our ministry has other programs that can assist residents.”

“We’ve taken four homes to date and have three more slated to come our way,” Tester reported. Individual family homes are typically three bedroom, two bath and around 1,400 s.f. “Our goal is to rehab those using funds made available through the City of Orlando’s Community Development Group and then make those available to families that qualify financially,” said Tester.

Meanwhile, Valencia hopes to translate some of her own experiences “to the residents that we serve by combining the ministries we provide to additionally assist them, not only with the affordable housing rent, but any issue that might come up in their lives.” It is the difference a faith-based organization makes.

Something Wade appreciates. “When they (landlords) first came to me and were telling me (I had to move), I said, ‘Oh my God. I didn’t know what’s going to happen next… If it weren’t for Catholic Charities, I could not have made it, I don’t think. They didn’t throw me away. They kept me. And you don’t find that too often, you know.”

By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic August 21, 2019

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