By Clint Twedt-Ball, Founder & Executive Director
From Autumn 2023 Newsletter
In her three decades of life, Jane has never had what she would describe as a safe, pest free, healthy place to live. She knows what it’s like to live with all types of bugs, crime, lead paint, rotted floors, soiled carpets and other unhealthy things. She wished for circumstances to change with her own kids, but after her latest run-in with a slum lord, she was about to give up. Then, a friend of hers connected her with Matthew 25. It just so happened that we had a newly renovated rental unit available. Fast forward, and a little over a year later, she has now lived in the same home for the longest time since her children were born.
This is just one story of the housing crisis gripping neighborhoods around the nation and in Cedar Rapids. Think about these stats. In the last twenty years, wages have increased on average by 20%, while housing purchase prices have doubled. In real numbers, median household wages have risen from $64k to $76k while the median price of homes has gone from $197k to $395k. Rent and construction costs have also increased. In Cedar Rapids, recent studies show that we are over 1,000 units short of our affordable housing needs.
Every day, we see the results at Matthew 25. The number of free meals requested at Groundswell Cafe has nearly doubled between 2022 and 2023. Our twenty units of affordable rental units are snatched up as soon as they become vacant. The new houses we are seeking to build are much less affordable than we’d like, due to increased construction costs. People that used to be able to maintain their homes adequately no longer have the funds. Kids and families are doubling up in housing units and sometimes being taken advantage of by unscrupulous landlords. The stress in housing bubbles up in unhealthy emotional ways and makes it a challenge for Matthew 25 to continue to grow strong neighborhoods.
As with all things Matthew 25 though, we are working on solutions. And we are doing it with our super power, community support. That’s you! Just like during other times of crisis, from floods to derechos, we’re seeing community support show up.
We’re seeing support show up from government, with the City of Cedar Rapids granting Matthew 25 over $350k to support ten units of healthy, energy-efficient home rehabs. We’re seeing support from volunteers and corporate sponsors, nearly 300 of whom showed up for our June Transform Week event to help more than thirty homeowners maintain their largest asset.
And, we’re seeing it with individuals and faith communities that are calling and asking us what they can do to impact the housing crisis. We know that every $60k in donations gives us the ability to put another family into high quality, affordable housing. And it puts families into a relationship with Matthew 25, a landlord that treats everyone as a gifted child of God. Now, I know, $60k seems like a lot, but any amount given to affordable housing gets put together with other contributions so that it isn’t all on one person. Our housing crisis is a community problem and it will take the entire community to solve it. Our neighborhoods are at their strongest when good housing is available to people at all income levels.
Over and over, we’ve seen that when families move into quality housing and are treated with respect, they also take ownership of their neighborhood. Their expectations for how people treat others and live in community rises.
Yes, we are in a housing crisis and it can seem overwhelming. There is no silver bullet solution. When it feels hopeless, I continue to look at other amazing crises our community has overcome. We have everything we need. We know we can put the Janes of the world into good housing. We just have to have the will to make it so.
In this together,