Once again we are taking on a larger than life problem, the housing of newly arrived refugees, immigrants, and asylees. Since our very beginning, we have struggled with this problem. When refugees and asylees arrive, there is a great rush to find them a place to live. As you can imagine, given that they have no job, or any other means of support, life gets difficult fast. It is very rare that landlords are willing to waive the first and last month’s rent, along with the security deposit. In Worcester, this could equal anywhere from $2,400 to $3,600 or more to get an apartment. The newly arrived receive $200+ per person in the family from the government. The only way around this problem is to find a house where newly arrived refugees and asylees could receive proper housing amenities at a reasonable price point. After dealing with landlords, who, understandably, wish to profit from their properties, we came to understand that we would need to buy a three-decker and set up the game in favor of the renters. Of course, whenever we told people about this plan they would immediately tell us that we were crazy and it would never work. We knew that we could never do it simply because we didn’t have the money!
Well, along came an angel who offered to provide the monies to purchase a three-decker and have a sizable maintenance fund. It took us over six months to finalize our strategy and get our board of directors to sign off on the idea, although we did sense a certain level of skepticism at the time.
We decided that we would not collect the first and last month’s rent and a security deposit, that the rent would be $800.00 per month, and the family could live there for up to eight years before having to move either to their own home or another rental. For this accommodation, the tenant would agree to participate in three courses. The first course would be on the rights of tenants and the responsibilities of landlords. The second course would cover financial management and the use of banks. The third course would be for those families wanting to buy a home of their own. This course would cover mortgages, credit scores, and home insurance.
We also decided that tenants would be selected using a lottery. We would gather prospective tenants from the various sponsoring agencies in the central Massachusetts area. The lottery winners would then be offered a lease for one of our apartments.
The final piece of this puzzle was what to call the program. As you might have guessed, we named it after Saint Stephen, a deacon and the first martyr of the church. It will be known as St. Stephen’s Housing Initiative. Our first house is located at 31 Colton Street, Worcester MA.
Currently, we are working with two families who will move in before June. We are interviewing a third family and we expect they will move in July. These families are Karens or Kerenini from Myanmar formerly Burma. Remember to keep our ministry and our new program in your prayers!