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Church creates housing for families in need

    The Blakemore United Methodist Church Housing Trust, along with partner congregations, built this home in Nashville, Tenn., for a low-income family.
A UMNS photo by Helen R. Allen.

A UMNS Feature
By Linda Green*

July 16, 2008

A United Methodist congregation in Tennessee wants to help eliminate poverty by providing affordable housing to low-income families and individuals.

Blakemore United Methodist Church in Nashville created the Blakemore Housing Trust in 2005 to implement ministries for low-income families. The organization operates under the theme, "Building the Walls That Unite Us," with a focus on community.

"This project represents an effort to meet a critical need for affordable housing in our community while building community within Blakemore United Methodist Church and the community at large," said Ron Merville, who directs the outreach ministry. "We see this as a way to put our energies into a project that is rewarding for our members and the family that purchases the home."

Last July, the trust, along with partner congregations, built a two-story, 1,216-square-foot home in an inner-city neighborhood in Nashville. The home was received in February by the three-member Thompson family. Blakemore was supported by Seay-Hubbard United Methodist Church, located in the neighborhood of the newly constructed home.

"I was excited to receive a new home," said Benita Thompson, 36, the mother of two sons, 16 and 10. "It was a long process, but owning a home is exciting. There is nothing like it in the world."

According to the Rev. Paul Gardner, Blakemore's former pastor, the value of a ministry like the housing trust is that any congregation, without a lot of capital, can move someone into homeownership. "The structure of it is such that one borrows money and collects on the back end," he said. "Any church can do this."

Affordable housing model

The trust seeks to become a model for both the denomination and its Tennessee Annual (regional) Conference of how to provide affordable housing to the working poor. It is also an example of The United Methodist Church's emphasis to engage in ministry with the poor.

Gardner, now pastor at Connell Memorial United Methodist Church in Goodlettsville, near Nashville, said the trust and the construction of the house created an atmosphere in which the Blakemore congregation and the homeowner were able to work together, "not just as the provider and the needy but (it) helped show that we were very real people with the same hopes and dreams."

Blakemore's ministry, he said, is an example of how putting creative minds to a task can create solutions. "Taking people from renting a house or apartment to owning a home represents a different kind of thinking to meet the needs that we see."

"Going from renting to owning a home felt good," Thompson said. Without the assistance from the housing trust, she said, "I could not have afforded a new home and I would still be renting." She would have eventually acquired a home, "but it would have been nothing as nice as the Blakemore Housing Trust provided for me," she said.

Breaking the cycle

The ability to buy an affordable home allows the recipient family to break the cycle of poverty through the accumulation of home equity, Merville said.

Through federal grants obtained by the trust, the recipient family is provided with a down payment assistance of $17,500. The trust sells the house to the recipient family at 80 percent of market value.

Home financing is arranged by Blakemore United Methodist Church through third-party lenders and government grants in order to convey the property to the eventual home buyer, Merville said. The trust works with a local community organization to identify and select a family that has completed a series of financial counseling sessions for home buyers.

Construction of a second house will begin soon, and two lots have been purchased, Merville said. "We look forward to beginning construction ... and building new relationships with other congregations and home buyers."

A home is constructed in four and one half months. He said the trust will build one house at a time and plans to continue as long as the need for affordable housing exists.

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Linda Green, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

Related Audio

The Rev. Paul Gardner: "...very real people with the same hopes and dreams..."

Benita Thompson: "...would have been nothing I could afford..."

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Denominational Statement on Housing in the U.S.A.

Blakemore United Methodist Church

Tennessee Annual Conference

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