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Congregations' Stories

Neighborhood Church—Pasadena, CA

"We want a more hands on approach to affordable housing development—not just loaning them our money. We have attempted to find a partner that does not proselytize in the process of providing housing."
—Jo’Ann DeQuattro, Outreach Director, Neighborhood Church, Pasadena California

Affordable housing fast became the obvious choice for our community investment initiative, as the local housing market has skyrocketed. Many hardworking hourly wage earners are paying more than 50% of income on housing. We chose to work with the Unitarian Universalist (UU) Affordable Housing Corporation External Site, a proven entity in the east, and are hoping that together we can build a similarly successful initiative in California. Choosing the right partner for our congregation was very important. Not only that, we received a Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) matching grant which doubled the impact of our Investment.

First Church of San Francisco Leads the Way in Community Investing

Bob Bacon, member of the Board of Trustees, First UU Church of San Francisco

First UU Church of San Francisco has invested $30,000 of our endowment funds with the UU Affordable Housing Corporation (UUAHC).  We were the first UU congregation on the west coast to invest with UUAHC, which operates principally in the Baltimore-Washington, DC, metropolitan area, but we are no longer the only one.

First Church, San Francisco, has a long history of socially responsible investing through the use of some social screens for our stock portfolio, but this is our first direct community development investment.  It represents about 3 percent of our total endowment principal.

Our investment enhances UUAHC's ability to provide housing.  And not only are our funds invested consistently with our UU values, they are invested with a fund that attaches the name of Unitarian Universalism to the good works that it does.  UUAHC derives an additional benefit when UU congregations invest: a matching amount of the UUA's endowment (minimum $2,000 per congregation; maximum $10,000 per congregation) is also invested with UUAHC.

There is the potential for yet another benefit to come of this investment.  UUAHC tells us it is interested in expanding its horizons beyond the Washington-Baltimore area, and making loans to facilitate housing construction elsewhere in the country.  Outside its home territory, UUAHC would want to be a participating investor in projects organized and coordinated locally.  The San Francisco church has on its "wish list" promoting an affordable housing partnership.  We are an urban congregation in a city with a severe crisis of housing affordability.  Services to the homeless have long been an important part of our social justice ministries.  When our church takes the plunge and becomes directly involved in providing affordable housing, what better place to look for a share of the financing than UUAHC?  And what better project for UUAHC to participate in than one sponsored by a congregation, which is one of UUAHC's own investors?

UU-Supported Community Based Investing Helps First Nation People Return to Their Homes

Sassy Smallman, Member, First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church, Kennebunk, Maine

At the age of 62 Viola Cotta, a Penobscot Indian born on Maine's Indian Island, did something she had always dreamed of doing: she bought a home on Indian Island and returned to live with her tribe. Viola's dream, realized four years ago, became a reality with a mortgage from Four Directions Development Corporation, a non-profit, Native-governed community development financial institution (CDFI).

Four Directions raises the capital to make loans from public and private sources. Two years ago, Four Directions and the Maine Council of Churches (MCC) joined forces to create the Giving Winds Capital Campaign as a means of outreach to communities of faith. The program has gained the support of many Maine UUs. MCC's Executive Director Jill Job Saxby, an ordained UU minister, observes, "Giving Winds offers a way for UUs and other people of faith to put their values to work in community-based investment programs."

So, through the support of the Four Directions program, when Cotta touches the hand-woven baskets hanging in her kitchen, she is also connecting to a tradition and culture reaching back hundreds of years. Her ancestors wove similar baskets from ash and sweet grass long before Columbus crossed the ocean. Cotta was adopted at age four and moved to Moosehead Lake with her new family. With that move, she left behind island life as well as the culture and practices of her Penobscot tribe. Growing up off the reservation, Cotta did not get to know her own culture—to weave baskets, to be a part of the smudging ceremonies, to participate in the dancing or the drumming.

"I missed all that growing up. And I was not taught my own language. But I did tell my son about life on Indian Island and he came here 20 years ago to learn about and be part of his own culture."

Viola Cotta's new home sits about a half-mile from that of her son (who resides in a home originally belonging to his grandmother). And the Four Directions Development Corporation, dedicated to supporting affordable housing and grassroots economic development for tribal members in Maine , was the bridge that connected Viola's heritage to the path that led her home to Indian Island .

Interestingly, the program that helped bring Cotta to her ancestral home began out of election defeat: a resounding "No" vote had killed a controversial casino proposition on the 2004 Maine ballot. Although the Board of the Maine Council of Churches had taken a strong stand against the casino, Jill Saxby said, "Our Board didn't want to just walk away from the issue of Native American economic development in Maine . We wanted to back up the 'no' vote with positive action."

Had the 2004 referendum passed, a casino could have meant enormous revenue-raising possibilities for the four Maine tribes--the Penobscot Indian Nation, the Passamaquoddy, the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians, and the Aroostook Band of Micmacs. As with so many Native Americans across this wealthy nation, the four tribes face appalling poverty levels. Statewide, one in four Native Americans lives below the poverty line. In areas of Washington and Aroostook County, that figure stands at sixty percent.

Statistics such as these and an ongoing commitment to Maine 's Native American community prompted the MCC to commit to help raise $1,000,000 under the Giving Winds campaign to support Four Directions in its work. So far, $660,000 has been raised, according to Campaign Coordinator Helen Scalia.

A central part of the campaign's success has been the support of the Northeast District (NED) of the Unitarian Universalist Association. Churches in the district can contribute to the campaign via either low interest loans or gifts—the latter collected during Giving Winds Sundays over a five-month period. During those Sundays, sixteen churches across the state raised nearly $16,000, which will be doubled by a matching grant from the US Department of the Treasury.

The loan arrangement was somewhat more complex, with the Northeast District making an initial $10,000 loan to Four Directions. Four UU congregations—- First Parish and Allen Avenue in Portland , along with congregations in Yarmouth and Kennebunk, followed the NED example, bringing the campaign loan total to $62,000. The Unitarian Universalist Association matched that amount and the US Department of the Treasury doubled that total. UUs helped raise about $238,000 to support Four Directions' work.

A key component of all UU congregational giving for affordable housing is the matching funds they receive from the UUA. The fund remains underutilized, however, and money remains available for congregations seeking to invest in affordable housing or micro-lending-related programs.

The Allen Avenue UU congregation was particularly creative in putting together its $12,000 loan for the project. When it became apparent that the church itself could not afford to make a loan, congregants came up with a novel idea: a few individual families would lend smaller amounts, say $1,000 each, to the church, which would in turn "bundle" those loans into a larger sum to Four Directions.

Cushman Anthony, Vice President of the board of Allen Avenue UU said, "The first declared principle of Unitarian Universalism is that we covenant to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person. Our second is that we covenant to affirm and promote justice, equity, and compassion in human relations.

"We have come to recognize that our forefathers have not treated members of American Indian tribes with justice, or with equity, and certainly did not promote the worth and dignity of tribal members to the same degree that they did towards persons who came here from Europe. We enjoy the privilege of not having to be bi-cultural and do not have to fight prejudice on a daily basis. Helping to make home improvement loans, home purchase loans, and business development loans is a pretty easy way to begin on that journey. For me, it is a question of giving back, of sharing the fruits of the life of white privilege which I received by accident of birth."

After attending the "Giving Winds Sunday" at Kennebunk's First Parish, one member gave gifts of $1,000 in the names of each of her three children. First Parish's Rev. Carol Strecker says, "The Giving Winds Campaign gave members of the congregation an opportunity to learn about the historic and contemporary issues facing their Native American brothers and sisters. It also gave them the opportunity to examine the dynamics of privilege. The congregation responded by choosing to open their minds, their hearts, and their checkbooks."

As Scalia points out, the federal matching funds to support such work through the U.S. Department of Treasury are available until December 2006. The Giving Winds campaign will continue to raise funds toward its goal until then. And, she notes, Native American CDFI's such as Four Directions exist all over the country. (To find one in your section of the world, go to Oweesta.)

Viewed from a purely financial viewpoint, the Giving Winds campaign and Four Directions have been a wild success. Tami Connolly, Four Directions housing loan officer, says, "Of the loans we have made over the last four years, nineteen percent have been paid off. And our default rate is zero, compared to three percent nationally. This is important because it means we are able to lend more money out to new borrowers."

But Four Directions is about more than mortgages and loans. It's about helping Maine tribal members realize their dreams. "There are so many stories that have touched my heart, from single mothers being able to realize home ownership, to young families buying their first homes, to seniors being able to move back to the community they grew up in," Connolly says.

For seniors or elders—like Viola Cotta and Donna Chapman—that move has allowed them to re-establish their tribal ties.

Like Cotta, Donna Chapman returned to Indian Island after a long absence. Donna left the reservation in 1967, in part because of the lack of job opportunities. She went to law school in the 80's and applied for law-related positions with the Penobscot tribe on several occasions. "Because I was 'off-reservation' and out of touch with the daily life here," Chapman says, "I was not successful."

When her sister Mary became ill, Chapman said, "I started coming home every three weeks to assist her. I applied for housing here and was certified but stayed eighth on the waiting list for years." In 2004 she found out about Four Directions which helped her put together a down payment on her home.

She said, "From July through October I applied, obtained approval, got the water-sewer application in, picked out a trailer, waited for the work to be done, and moved in to my home in mid-December." When her sister's condition worsened, Chapman was able to help her make the transition to assisted living.

"My trailer is on the family homestead and the memories from my childhood are a great comfort," Donna Chapman says. "I have the river within eyeshot. Being here allows me to contribute to the life of the community. I am listened to by some as I am an elder. The joy of my life is that I can see my sister every day if I want. I'm glad to be home at last."

For more information contact responsibleinvesting @ uua.org.

This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.

Last updated on Friday, June 17, 2011.

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