Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Evangelical Left All Shook Up About Affordable Housing

Book Review by Wayne Lusvardi of Making Housing Happen: Faith-Based Affordable Housing Models by Jill Suzanne Shook, editor and co-author. Chalice Press, 2006 $34.99:

Through her new book, Jill Shook, a housing activist in Pasadena, California, has become the de facto spokesperson of the Evangelical Left's new social movement to combat the so-called "affordable housing crisis", mostly focused on the U.S situation. The book jacket contains endorsements by many leaders of the Evangelical Left - Tony Campolo, Ronald J. Sider, and oddly has a preface by Dr. John Perkins, who doesn't fit the label. Given that the November 2006 elections have energized the political Left, Shook, who fashions herself as the next Jane Addams, may very well be used as one of the centerpieces of the Democratic Party's missionary ventures to evangelical Christianity. As such her Biblically-populist book is important but problematic both on empirical and theological grounds.

In Shook's hometown of Pasadena the reality of housing affordability is the reverse of what Shook portrays. One-third of the population by the U.S. Census is low income, mostly migrants from Mexico (God bless them). If there truly was an "affordable housing crisis" for the poor, how could one third of the populace afford housing in such an upscale suburban community? By doubling-up in housing and gobbling up the lowest rung on the housing affordability ladder, migrants have driven up rents and have driven the working class out of affordable housing.

Contra Shook's notion that scattered gentrification drives the poor out of affordable housing, California court decisions such as Serrano vs. Priest (1971) and urban riots partly organized by those on the political Left have made migrants into a protected class in neighborhoods in the first concentric ring surrounding Los Angeles. Moreover, Shook has no comprehension that her advocacy of inclusionary housing, "smart-growth," rent control, and her opposition to gentrification actually will worsen the affordable housing crisis rather than lessen it.

Theologically problematic is Shook's disguising of the neo-Marxist advocacy model of Saul Alinsky and the Industrial Areas Foundation as what she calls the Biblical "Nehemiah Strategy" (Chap.15). The theological underpinning for her cafeteria of affordable housing models is mostly based on the Old Testament concept of "justice," by which she means wealth redistribution by coercive government. Shook and her co-authors fail to tell readers that nearly all of the "faith-based" affordable housing case studies in her book relied on government funding.

Shook is oblivious to Jesus' observation that "man does not live by bread (or housing) alone." As such she doesn't recognize that religiosity (i.e., Max Weber's Protestant Ethic) can be conducive to housing affordability in a capitalist society. Her advocacy of compulsory "inclusionary housing," which diminishes the value of land of small property owners (not real estate developers) without "just" compensation runs against the commandment "thou shall not steal." Even Shook's Biblical preference for homeless immigrants runs against the moral of the scriptural story of King David taking a sheep from a rich man to give to a traveler in II Samuel 12.

A responsible Christian approach to such a complex issue as housing affordability in a modern society should entail the necessity of economic and sociological competency but also an understanding that our best efforts may lead to unintended consequences for which one needs to rely on humility, grace and repentance. How so many affordable housing advocates from such institutions as Fuller, Denver and Gordon-Cornwell Theological Seminaries, Chalice Press, and many para-church organizations could unquestioningly contribute to and endorse this Marxist-based model of housing is indicative of how the Evangelical Left have already successfully infiltrated and co-opted formerly conservative Protestant institutions. Whether Shook's social movement, which will likely be funded by the new Democratic Congress, will run into opposition by The Minutemen and the property rights movements remains an open question.

California housing prices are twice what they are in some other large U.S. cities because of huge Greenie-inspired restrictions on development. Anyone sincerely concerned about housing costs would therefore be devoting major energies to rolling back such restrictions. I do not need to guess that the shaky one will not be exerting any energies in that direction, however - JR