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Setting the table before engaging a few select causes

Louisville’s Anchorage Presbyterian Church holds ‘A Place at the Table’ series to help explore next steps for its Matthew 25 ministry

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

A Place at the Table is Anchorage Presbyterian Church’s series to educate members and friends on next steps it can take as part of its commitment to the Matthew 25 invitation.

LOUISVILLE — In an effort to deepen its commitment to the Matthew 25 invitation, Anchorage Presbyterian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, has been holding a series of weekly sessions it’s calling A Place at the Table. Sunday’s discussion on affordable housing in and around Louisville featured Tony Curtis, executive director of the Metropolitan Housing Coalition. Curtis’ slides are here and his talk may be viewed here, along with a previous talk by retired attorney Bill Wilson about the history of housing and redlining in Louisville.

“This discussion series has been our first [Matthew 25] project,” said Susan Turner, a member of the church’s Matthew 25 steering committee. “The speakers have been very knowledgeable, and we’ve had good discussion during each meeting.”

For its work, the church selected eradicating systemic poverty and dismantling structural racism, two of the three foci of the Matthew 25 invitation, with the third being building congregational vitality. “We have been reading as a book group for a year,” Turner said. “The more we read, the more we realized the importance of education before you take an action. You really need to hear from the people who are suffering to understand where you can be useful.”

Susan Turner (Screenshot)

Anchorage Presbyterian Church “has always been active in mission and faithful to one another and to God,” Turner said. “It’s been a wonderful place to be.”

“I think the series has brought awareness,” said the Rev. Tara Reck, the church’s pastor. Once the educational series is complete, “we will figure out the next steps.”

The church has a tradition of channeling up to 20% of its budget into charitable causes and shared mission, Reck said. APC “has always been good about money,” she said. “We want to expand that to feet on the ground.”

Curtis noted that the coalition he heads, which includes about 300 member organizations, has been doing research and advocacy work for more than 30 years after being founded by, among others, Presbyterian pastors.

In Louisville and in other communities, deed restrictions became widely used as more and more Americans entered into home ownership following World War II. One such restriction in a Louisville neighborhood got its message of exclusion across in one sentence: “This property will never be sold or rented to any person of African descent.”

That kind of exclusion “was embedded into law” until 1972, when deed restrictions were deemed illegal. “It’s very recent history,” Curtis noted.

Louisville and many other communities study their local housing markets to identify housing needs for particular levels of income. The most recent in Louisville found the highest need at the lowest levels of income: about 31,000 units were needed in 2019 for those making up to $20,000 annually, and about 22,500 houses were needed for those people making $30,000 annually, according to Curtis.

Curtis also displayed a series of maps showing patterns of segregated housing throughout the community over the past several decades. Not much has changed over the past 20 years or so. Housing concentrations for Black and Hispanic families has remained in relatively the same neighborhoods for a long stretch of time.

Ditto for such measures as poverty rates, health outcomes, access to fresh food and vaccination rates, he said. When it comes to life expectancy, one’s ZIP Code is an important predictor: the difference between the city’s lowest life expectancy rates (in the early 70s) and highest (in the mid-80s) depends largely on where one calls home.

Tony Curtis

“Your ZIP Code matters,” Curtis said.

One of the best ways to close those gaps is through home ownership, he said. In Louisville, nearly two-thirds of the city’s Black population rents their home. For whites, it’s less than one-third. Half of Louisville’s Black homeowners live in 22 of the city’s 198 census tracts.

And the best way for a community to have housing that’s affordable is to increase workers’ wages. In Louisville, a fulltime worker must earn at least $15.79 per hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment and utilities. However, more than a quarter-million jobs held down by Louisville residents, 40% of the workforce, pay less than that.

“Wow,” Curtis said. “That’s a lot of people.”

The COVID-19 pandemic increased the number of people being evicted, but it was at crisis level even before March 2020, according to Curtis, who sat through one 30-minute hearing process during which 93 eviction cases were considered. “Eviction assistance helps,” Curtis said, “but there’s still a lot of work to be done.”

The most recent point-in-time count for Jefferson County, which includes about 767,000 people and is home to Louisville, which has about 618,000 people, counted these people:

  • 1,013 were homeless
  • 257 were sleeping outside
  • 756 were sheltered
  • 168 were under age 18
  • 481 were white
  • 455 were Black
  • 292 were chronically homeless.

That’s surely not all the people experiencing homelessness in Jefferson County, Curtis said.

“That’s the tip of the iceberg,” Curtis said. “Housing is one of the biggest issues we need to solve with regards to homelessness.”

“Remember, we’re talking about people here. We can acknowledge them with a wave,” Curtis said. The topic of panhandling “always comes up in the discussion. It’s a personal choice to give or not to give,” he said. Another option is to inform people about services that are available. “There are mechanisms in place,” Curtis said.

“Everyone has a different journey to homelessness,” he said, adding “it has always existed during economic downturns.”

People who advocate for their siblings who are experiencing homelessness have several avenues they can pursue, including:

  • Advocating for reform to their community’s land development code
  • Helping to ensure tenants can access legal counsel during eviction hearings
  • Strengthening their local rental property registry
  • Helping to grow the community’s affordable housing funding
  • Advocating for renters to sit on state and local government boards and commissions that deal with affordable housing.

A daily thought that helps guide Curtis’ work is “where you start your day and where you end your day. I hope it’s under a roof,” he said. “If we can effect positive change, it affects so many other areas.”

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