Day 6 Devotional & Discussion – February 16, 2016

MICAH 2:1-2

All of us live on land that did not belong to us or to our ancestors but was taken by force or fraud from its original inhabitants. The American experience is built upon the foundation of the displacement and resettlement of indigenous peoples because “we had the power to do it.” We still see people using power to displace others through “speculative real estate deals”, “urban pioneering” and “gentrification.”

Questions for Reflection:

  1. What does it mean for a person to “have power” especially as it relates to housing?
  2. Are you a person with power? What power do you have?
  3. How can people of faith “plot good on their beds” rather than evil in relationship to real estate and housing?

FOR FURTHER REFLECTION

A trend over the last 40 years is for young (predominantly white) artists, students and professionals to move into poor urban communities of color in what has become known as “gentrification.” Property values increase, new capitol comes into the community, and crime rates often fall. Cities often encourage this shift because it represents development and increased revenue. However, as good as all this sounds, “gentrification” has a dark side. According to Teresa Cordova in her article “Community Intervention Efforts to Oppose Gentrification” (In Philip W. Nyden, Wim Wiewel, eds., Challenging Uneven Development: An Urban Agenda for the 1990s, (1991) New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 25-48.), suggests that

“gentrification is a creation of real estate agents, property developers, and banks who control the “who” and “where” of urban property shifts.”

In other words, those with power see a way to profit through a shift in the way urban property is reused. In addition, as property values increase, property taxes and rents rise, often making the community unaffordable for existing homeowners and tenants. Families are forced to find a more affordable community. It also promotes speculative land purchases as people look for the next “hot” neighborhood. Buy a cheap property, hold on to it and then flip it for a large profit. We are watching this this phenomena happening in Logan Square—especially along the Bloomingdale Trail. What was once an affordable community for immigrants and low-income families has now become the most recent “hot neighborhood” in Chicago. What could your church do to ensure that families can still call Logan Square ‘home’?

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3 comments

  1. In my mind, having power in housing is having housing at all. We, as conscientious people of faith, can use this power by opening our homes to a variety of purposes. Lexi and I are hosting our Lenten book group this year, we are always opening our doors to friends and family, whether they are passing through or coming specifically to see us, and we treat our home as an asset, a tool to be used, in any situation we come across. As we have this power, we also must have the courage to offer said tool to those who need it. Much like Ellen and Ty have their Michigan home and open it to church members, we need to be OK with offering our assets to those in need of such assets, realizing that these tools are God’s gift to us to steward and not solely our own.

  2. I believe that power is often over and above creation. As a child, living in the Madison & Cicero vicinity of Chicago, I witnessed first hand the power that white owned real estates held over the residents of this Greater Austen neighborhood, in block busting street upon street, making an amazing amount of money. This was a lose-lose situation for residents. People of color sought a better life. From our family’s perspective, we decided to abandon our townhouse, one evening, when a brick came crashing through my bedroom window. When emotions run high, there is a temptation to embrace racism, without considering who was benefiting from such events. In contrast, nearby Oak Park organized, and structured local government to ensure diversity, although I doubt if it achieved economic diversity.

    The work of Chomsky and so many others certainly suggest the impact that language contributes in shaping reality. So, I believe a quest for power, and phrases such as “spiritual warfare” are spiritually suspect. Instead, I prefer a quest towards social interest and cooperation. Such organizational tactics frequently “work.” I am reminded of a march for immigration rights I participated in. The city desperately tried to shut the march down, while people used social media to continually alter the parade route. We might say that Cinco Dr Mayo was a great success, and the event received significant network coverage. Cooperation is a useful paradigm.

    When I was a teenager I went to a few meetings of the Revolutionary Communist party. From my perspective, there was a lot of “power talk,” and it appeared to me that many were so consumed with rage, that it held them in bondage, though this was my own subjective impression.

  3. The Micah passage implies that anyone can covet and plan iniquity on their beds, but not everyone has the power to carry it out. That made we wonder, “what kind of power must one have to carry out the plan?” Obviously, there is the power of weapons. This happened frequently in US history when the government sent the military to relocate and resettle indigenous people on “reservations” located on land that had no value to the government and then distribute the land through land grants. There is also the power of wealth. Those with wealth have the power to access policy makers (through campaign contributions) and influence laws and policies that regulate land use to their advantage. Those with wealth have access to lenders and favorable lending terms. In the US, there is also the power of ‘whiteness’. Race has always played a role in determining who does and who does not have access to real estate and financing, as well as the value of the land itself. The GI bill which promoted home ownership was limited to white veterans. It is logical to assume that the more “power” one has, the more one can do to gain for oneself (and/or bring harm to others). Subsequently, white people with wealth and weapons can pretty much do whatever they want. God says, “Woe” to you who do whatever you want because you have the power to do it. God (and we) should also say, “Whoa!” Just because someone has power doesn’t make use of power right.

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