A Reliable God vs. an Unpredictable Market

A Reliable God vs. an Unpredictable Market

Housing prices in Vancouver continue on an irrational upward trajectory. According to BIV (Business in Vancouver) the benchmark price in April for all home types across Metro Vancouver was $941,100, which is up 11.4% year-over-year.  Condos had the biggest price increase at 16.6% over the past year, reaching $554,100. Townhome prices increased 15.3% year-over-year to $701,800. The Vancouver Sun reported that sales of detached homes fell 38.8 per cent from April 2016, while the composite benchmark price for those properties rose 8.1 per cent in that time, reaching $1,516,500. And yet, there are buyers for these homes.

The average Vancouverite wonders “Who buys those houses?” How do we find solutions for a complex systemic problem, where the solutions seem to lie beyond the reach of the average individual?

Market theories and predictions fill the news with ideas. Despair, cynicism, or hopeless resignation fill the hearts of the average citizen. For many longer and longer commutes seem to be the only real solution to the housing crisis. But is that the only solution to this crisis? Maybe not. It all depends on what news and worldview inform the response.

Christianity, for centuries, has been the worldview that inspired creative and communal solutions for complex human crises. The gospel, proclaimed by thousands of followers of Christ, was not just a new philosophy, but a way of life that practically embodied solutions to social crises like: illiteracy, the caring of the sick, slavery, land ownership, and others.  How are the followers of Christ in Vancouver called to address the current housing crisis?

Relying on God or on the market

First, by realizing that our Christian response to the crisis cannot be primarily informed by the unpredictability of the market, but by the reliability of the person of God as sovereign. The biblical picture is one in which absolute sovereignty is attributed to God alone, while stewardship responsibilities are attributed to human beings who are accountable to God for the fulfillment of these responsibilities.   God created and owns the land. He is humanity’s benevolent  landlord: “the land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants.” Leviticus 25:23 (NIV, 1984).  The current housing crisis, in Vancouver and around the world, is part of a larger human crisis rooted in a lifestyle that excludes God and neighbours. A worldview that includes God in the picture has room for hope and creativity. Even if Christians find themselves commuting for many hours of the day, or having to move many times, they know that, regardless of the housing market, God is with them and will provide for them. Like God moved, guided, and provided sustenance for Israelite families during 40 years in the dessert, we Christians know that God moves with us and guides us, and that is where home is.  At the same time, the good news of the resurrection of Christ, which defeated death and sin, open people’s minds to the possibility of overcoming greed and fear. This makes room for creative housing solutions that include God and others. 

Christians: early adopters of a socially inclusive housing order

Second, the response to the housing crisis must accommodate God and community or it will not be sustainable.  What does it look like to accommodate God and neighbour? It means to understand that the Kingdom of God, God’s new order brought to ordinary individuals by Christ, is an order that makes room for all; in Dr. Tim Dickau’s words, “[it is about] creating cities that conform to God’s vision, cities that make room for the widow, orphan and stranger, let alone for the middle class.” Therefore, a practical solution to the current housing crisis needs to be collective in nature.

Marshalling the resources of small groups of people

Secular thinkers and professionals also see in this time a great opportunity for communal housing. Jim Stanford, Economist at Unifor, suggests that this is a great time to get back into social housing to help the 15% of Canadians who have “core housing needs,” that those who can’t even rent a space for less than a third of their income. Social housing includes: public housing, NGOs and community housing, and housing co-ops that are very effective. This is beneficial in helping people who need housing get it, but could also put some kind of damper on the house price inflation and help create jobs in the construction industry.

Vancouver churches like First Baptist, Central Presbyterian and Grandview Calvary Baptist, among many others, have chosen to use their valuable real estate properties for social housing. They too see the crucial role that church properties and communal values play in addressing the housing crisis. Tim Dickau suggests: “I am convinced that the Church has an incredible opportunity at this point in history to address the housing crisis if we resist handing our church properties over for private development and use them instead to develop social and affordable housing, thereby providing homes for the most vulnerable and bearing witness powerfully to God’s compassion.” Rev.  Jim Smith’s awareness and compassion for the senior population in the West end who “have even been forced to move out of the West End due to ‘renovictions’,” has inspired their church housing initiative to help stop this traumatic process. They plan to continue working in partnership with facilities such as Mole Hill Community Housing.

The information below offers details on some of the current communal housing initiatives and on how to support them.

Central Presbyterian Church
Downtown Vancouver
1155 Thurlow StreetProject spokesperson: Rev. Jim Smith

Target Population: Primarily seniors with a connection to the West End (either current residents or recently displaced).  Others include transitional patients from the Dr. peter Centre and those with mobility issues at Mole Hill community Housing.

Building composition and estimated occupancy schedule:

  • 22-story podium+tower building
  • 45 apartments: studio, 1,2 bedroom units
  • 3 bottom floors for the church
  • 3 floors of affordable housing and the balance will be market rental housing owned by Bosa Properties. Occupancy schedule: May 2018

First Baptist Church
Downtown Vancouver
Nelson and BurrardProject spokesperson: Dr. Carson Pue

Ways to support: attending open house when project is announced in the fall; consider supporting development application at City Hall when the time comes.

Target Population:  Singles, older adults, students, families, and new immigrants. Expand First Baptist’s professional counselling centre, homeless shelter program, a community library, youth services and to create a community gathering place for older adults.

Building composition and estimated occupancy schedule:

  • 45,00 sq, ft’
  • 80% of suites: Bach, 1,2,3 bed will be below market rates
  • 20% for church staff or to rent at market level.Tentative finish date: 2020

Grandview Calvary Baptist Church
East Vancouver
1st Ave and Victoria DrProject spokesperson: John Koehn and Pastor Tim Dickau

Ways to support: helping reach fundraising goal. less than 0.5 million dollars left to raise.

Target Population: The poor and those willing to pursue downward mobility to share life together with the poor.

Building composition and estimated occupancy schedule:

  • 4-story building with community garden and office space over top of church parking lot
  • 26 self-contained units
  • 20 units for those who are poor
  • 6 units for those who will share life together with others in the building.Occupancy date: Fall 2017

How can Christian home owners or sellers help in this housing crisis? Maybe by being “good news” landlords or sellers. The good news is that Christ overcame death and sin through his death and resurrection. So being a “good news” person is making choices that overcome greed, fear of scarcity or fear of others.  I am inspired by the “good news” landlords and sellers that I know who allow God’s values to direct their participation in the housing market. They are willing to offer “below market rates” that shock real estate agents or fellow landlords, but that bear witness to God as humanity’s benevolent landlord.  Plus, their individual choices help to put a damper to the current house pricing speculation.

Finally, let’s remember that “It is not just about building houses, but about building community,” as Deborah Littman notes. She and the Metro Vancouver Alliance champion participation of individual citizens and partnerships among churches and other social housing organizations to increase efficiency and impact. Deeper impact initiatives like the East London Community Trust Land, where land is gifted and not profited on, may be applicable to Vancouver. Christian initiatives based on the values of new monasticism like the Reba Community in Chicago, the Rutba House in North Carolina, and the Northhumbria Community in England are a proof of how collaborative action among average individuals of faith may not only address housing issues, but can create life sustaining communities.

Claudia Rossetto BCS M.A., D.Min. -Church Relations Coordinator at Missions Fest Vancouver (in leave) and  former chair of the Gospel and Community Engagement Committee of her church, Grandview Calvary Baptist in East Vancouver. Missions Fest exists to inspire and challenge people to be involved in mission.


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