Housing is Everything

Advocates for Racial Justice (ARJ)

Union Church, joined with other Newton Houses of Worship as the Newton Interfaith Coalition for Housing Equity, and prepared testimony for City Council consideration in zoning reform for more abundant and affordable housing.

As Newton’s Clergy, faith leaders and representatives of NICHE, the Newton Interfaith Coalition for Housing Equity, we have kept informed and participated in the zoning and planning work this year. We contributed, as well, to the Community Engagement process. And today, our faith leads us to speak about a Newton that is inclusive, welcoming and just.

We have come to see equality in society as a religious imperative as well as a civic imperative. The religious imperative of equality was expressed by the friendship and social activism of Rabbi Joshua Heschel and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who, together,  prayed with their feet during the voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery on March 21st 1965. Rabbi Heschel taught that once one understands that the divine exists in every person (b’tzelem elohim), one can not harbor any hatred (or ill-will) towards others. From this posture, Rev. Devlin Scott and I, with support of the rest of NICHE, advocate for housing and zoning codes in the City of Newton that foster diversity and inclusion. Today, we “pray with our feet, from a place of love not anger, and with strength not weakness relying on the guidance that is offered by our sacred bonds.

These sacred bonds guide us to care about many issues in Newton, but zoning touches on multiple ones.  Housing density is good for our climate crisis. Our Congregations have Climate Justice as a priority mission as well as housing justice. We are praying for God’s earth and know that abundant and affordable housing serves key environmental sustainability goals as well as inclusion goals.

We acknowledge the West Newton Armory rebuild as an excellent example of climate conscience, equity and justice in housing reform and inclusion as it will be a home for over 50 people and includes support services within the building.

Currently our antiquated zoning, colored by historic redline exclusion and disinvestment, has resulted in the serious outcomes that we need to respond to vigorously. Our pastors, teachers, nurses, first responders and other key members of the community cannot afford to live in Newton, where there is a mismatch between employment and housing. Those who work in Newton during the day should be able to sleep in Newton at night. Our Seniors cannot find smaller homes, our graduates must live outside of Newton, rents are unaffordable, and the average home price is 1.6 million dollars. This is the result of housing that is not abundant nor diverse nor adequate for those who are very much a part of our community. We advocate for that to change.

We support housing that sustains Newton’s commitment to racial equity and justice in an effort to remove the stain of Newton’s history of redlining. Just one week ago, we gathered at Newton North High School to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. King. We proclaimed Justice to be a community value.  Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King said that “True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.” We can not merely move on from the atrocities of this city’s past,  we have an ethical call to intentionally recognize our history of prejudice and segregation, doing all that we can to correct this history. That is justice. Newton’s zoning practices should reflect our values as a community and demonstrate that we believe in this kind of justice for all no matter their race or income level, especially through our housing policy and zoning reform, otherwise our gatherings, our statements and speeches are simply “lip-service” with no return.

We support you in your efforts to create a reformed zoning ordinance that allows families to live in Newton, that revitalizes our communities, and that welcomes people of diverse income, race, and faith.

Housing is everything.  So, we offer this new prayer: Yes In God’s Back Yard (YIGBY)

We say Yes to Village Center rezoning that allows multi-family housing by right.
We say Yes to Newton thriving with more families and more young people.
We say Yes to a welcome to all who want to live here.
We say Yes to small homes, affordable apartments and support to people on the margins.
We say Yes to finally addressing our wrongdoing of redlining and doing what is just.

Thank you for the opportunity tonight to speak.