Women Religious Once Again Stepping Up

by | Apr 15, 2021 | Formation, Homelessness, Reflections

Women religious have long ministered to people experiencing homeless or inadequate housing, running shelters and programs geared toward helping people stay off the streets.

But rather than wait for a tsunami of evictions to occur on the other side of the moratorium, some sisters have started organizing fundraisers for rent and utility relief, hoping to help renters chip away at their growing bills. Sisters around the country are banding together to provide financially for those currently in the throes of a crisis.

Some highlights from Global SIsters Report

A quick overview of what women religious are doing

  • Sisters of Charity of New York‘s housing program runs more than a dozen affordable housing projects and homeless shelters for seniors, those who have chronic mental illness, and women with children. The Sisters of Charity of New York have now set up a fund that would help those on the verge of eviction or who needed money for utilities.
  • The Felician Sisters Francis Fund came from a fall council meeting in which the sisters and their lay partners brainstormed ways to be more helpful to those struggling financially because of the pandemic. They teamed up with Catholic Charities USA in December for a challenge grant, with each group contributing $1 million to what would become the Francis Fund for Eviction Prevention.
  • The Francis Fund is just one piece of a larger, ongoing initiative that Catholic Charities agencies oversee in providing housing assistance. Because Catholic Charities has 167 agencies in 3,000 sites across the United States, “we know where people are hurting,” Markham said, and they are “able to get a lot of immediate help to people in a very short time.”

The other side of the story

“It’s not so simple as ‘landlords bad, renters good.’ Nobody actually ever thinks what the back-end consequences are, and housing is really expensive to maintain. … Bad landlords are always going to find a way to make money. That’s what they do. But if you squeeze out good landlords, that’s when things are going to get bad.” (Matt Janeczko, executive director of the Sisters of Charity of New York’s program.)

He also said “It’s really easy to say, ‘We’re going to cancel rent.’ But when the boiler breaks in the building, how do you think we’re going to pay the plumber?”

National Real Estate Investors Association conducted an informal survey among its members — mostly small landlords and house flippers — asking how the eviction moratorium was affecting them.

About a third of the small landlords (those who own 25 units or fewer) said if something didn’t change in the next six months, they were “going under,” said Charles Tassell, the association’s chief operations officer.

While the eviction moratorium shields tenants from paying their monthly rent, Tassell said “behind the scenes, the bank bill keeps coming due,” including property taxes, contractor fees and regular maintenance.

“The current housing situation is a symptom, not the ailment. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

As so many times in the past women religious are pioneering in the effort to cope with evictions.