Ottawa gathers parishioners around affordable housing initiatives

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Christ Church Bells Corners, Ottawa. Contributed photo

Ottawa, Ont.

On May 11, the diocese of Ottawa held a forum on homelessness and affordable housing as part of plans to implement its share of the national church’s commitment towards the issue.

That commitment, established in 2013 by a joint assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada and the Anglican Church of Canada, was to encourage members of both churches to pray, learn, act and advocate on behalf of homelessness and affordable housing. The following year the diocese created a working group and set goals of getting every parish engaged and to create 125 new affordable housing units by 2021, to mark the diocese’s 125th anniversary that year.

With several projects under way, the diocese organized a forum focused on encouraging parish engagement in the program through action, advocacy, prayer and learning. The event drew 71 delegates from parishes throughout the diocese.

One of the keynote themes was the role of the church at a time when housing is becoming inaccessible in the wider community and the church itself is struggling with diminishing numbers and financial resources.

“We can’t keep doing it this way,” Canon Sue Garvey said in a keynote address. Garvey recently retired after 22 years as executive director of Cornerstone Housing for Women, one of the diocese’s community ministries.

“Too many valuable assets are underused, and too many people’s time is being spent in sitting in meetings about how to pay to fix a leaky roof instead of being out there, engaged in real, life-changing ministry with the people who need us.”

The diocese’s director of mission, Archdeacon P.J. Hobbs, made a similar point. “It so often seems like we have so little, when we have enough for the mission to which God calls us,” he said. “In fact we have an abundance, more than enough. The question is whether we have the courage and vision to unleash it—the paradox of blessings.”

The parishes that are outward-looking in their communities are the ones that are thriving, Archdeacon Kathryn Otley said. She is the rector of Christ Church Bells Corners in suburban Ottawa, which is moving ahead with development of part of its property as an affordable housing facility.

The forum offered four workshops, covering opportunities in rural communities; getting started; involvement with limited resources; and creating innovative partnerships for housing. Participants included representatives from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), City of Ottawa Housing, an expert on rural homelessness and non-profit developers.

The diocese’s advocacy role predates the joint assembly’s resolution. Bishop John Chapman met with ministers and senior officials, and the diocese participated in consultations leading to the National Housing Strategy, announced late in 2017.

Thus far, the strategy has provided a favorable environment for church initiatives. Vivian Chu of CMHC told a workshop the corporation has several programs with funding potential for church partners that have land.

Other speakers said projects involving new construction take at least five years from concept to completion. Hobbs responded that all 125 new units in the campaign may not be finished by 2021, but that having them under way would represent success.

David Humphreys is an Ottawa-based journalist. He writes for the diocese of Ottawa’s Crosstalk.

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