Richard Schultz moved from California to Minnesota just seven months ago. Yet the Cantor for Bet Shalom Congregation was glad to brave one of the coldest nights in decades because he believes in the vision that all people have a home.
Cantor Schultz was one of hundreds of people of faith from across Beacon who showed up for our Congregation Convening on January 29. Painfully aware that many Minnesotans would struggle that same night to find warm shelter from the bitter cold, we gathered in solidarity with their cries for justice. We gathered because our various faith traditions call us to repair a broken world, and we take that call seriously enough to act on it. We gathered to say ‘yes’ to creating homes, sheltering families, and impacting policy – ‘yes’ to writing a story of a more just and equitable world.
And we gathered to show our newly-elected governor and lieutenant governor that people of faith expect them to make housing a priority in their administration.
“Yes! The vision that ‘all people have a home’ is a vision we’d like to see ourselves be part of,” declared Governor Tim Walz, as he and Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan shared about the values that guide their thinking when it comes to housing in Minnesota. “We need to make history with [our] investments in housing,” he continued. “We know that housing gets better health outcomes, we know that housing gets better education outcomes, we know that housing decreases the need for incarceration.”
For more than 25 minutes, Governor Walz and Lt. Governor Flanagan engaged with Beacon moderators, discussing how their administration would approach the need for low-income housing, increased rental assistance, the Homes for All policy agenda, and the role that Beacon as an unapologetically interfaith organization can play in shaping conversation around the state. Sometimes, the responses were incredibly specific: “As we’re creating our budget, folks who are experiencing homelessness, folks who are at the lowest incomes, will be a priority within that,” said Flanagan. “The answer is YES,” we’ll meet with Beacon before July 2019 to provide progress updates, an enthusiastic Walz proclaimed. “Our ask of you is to continue to write those post cards to your legislators,” admonished Flanagan, “to say this a priority, to lobby, to show up, and then to make sure that you’re also praying for us as we are doing this work.” To which Governor Walz chimed in, “Congregations are the ones that can build the [public] will. Sometimes it’s as simple as siting – that we can’t site the project because we can’t get the social will from the community to understand what this means. Once we get past those barriers, we can get people in [to affordable homes].” (Glad to hear he’s familiar with Beacon’s approach and history!)
Some other aspects will need clarification as we move forward, though. When the subject of a public dedicated funding source for rental assistance – a priority for Beacon congregations – came up, Governor Walz was generally supportive, yet noncommittal. “There needs to be a long-term plan [for housing],” he affirmed, “and if we truly believe that housing is this existential crisis…we need to have this conversation about how do we make sure that if the whims of an administration coming in, if the whims of the economy fluctuate, [eliminating housing funds is] not the first thing that happens.” Whether that would take the form of dedicated funding sources was unclear. It was also unclear how full-throated their support will be around the Homes for All legislative agenda, an expansive push to invest in Minnesota’s prosperity by addressing the full continuum of housing needs. When asked directly, Governor Walz discussed ambiguous “scaffolding” without commenting on what that might look like or how it relates to specifics of the agenda. We look forward to working with the Homes for All coalition to ensure these critical investments in our shared future are realized.
As we continue to deepen our working relationship with Governor Walz and Lieutenant Governor Flanagan, we know there will be times when we’ll need to push, as well as times when we can celebrate alignment. Among the dozens of congregations represented – and fired up! – at Convening, the sense was that we are grateful to have started this relationship off on such a strong, positive, enthusiastic footing! We heard that this administration sees housing as essential to a strong Minnesota. We heard that providing the necessary supports for families and individuals to thrive is personal and part of a holistic approach. And, we heard that we’ve got some work to do – we’ve still got to organize to see our priorities become realities. But most importantly, we heard that our voices as faith communities will be vital and welcome around the tables where decisions are made.
Lieutenant Governor Flanagan was direct in asking us to live out our faith in the public arena: “Be unafraid to talk about your faith and what calls you to do this work in the halls of power.” And in a moment of vulnerability, she invited us to keep doing what we do best: build community. “We crave being in community,” she offered. “So please invite us: to show up, to build relationships, as the governor said not always to sit at the head of the table, but just to break bread together and to be in community.”
We certainly plan to continue doing just that.
One community, together. One vision, together. One story, written one chapter at a time, together.
“What can I do to move a mountain?” Cantor Schultz sang as we prepared to head back out into the -25 degree night. “What can I do to part the sea? To shine the light so there’s no darkness, I’ll take a step; come walk with me.”
And together, we stepped out in faith, invigorated in our call to see that all people have a home.