Submitted Fri Aug 21 2009 09:58:00 GMT-0400 (EDT)
by Josh Protas
During the past two years, affordable housing issues have become a higher priority for the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona in Tucson. Even before the impacts of the current economic crisis were acutely being felt, finding safe, decent, and affordable housing presented big challenges for the more vulnerable members of the Southern Arizona community, including seniors, families with young children, low and fixed income households, and immigrant families. More recently, foreclosure rates across Arizona have been staggering (Arizona currently rates second in the nation in foreclosure rates) – a situation that has forced thousands of families out of their homes into uncertain circumstances.
The JCRC in Tucson has approached affordable housing issues at two different levels – through a hands on social action effort and through an advocacy campaign initiated with community partners. The social action effort has been centered upon the Tzedek Build project – a Jewish community Habitat for Humanity home build coordinated by the JCRC. In partnership with local synagogues, agencies, and Jewish organizations, the community has come together to raise the funds for home construction and build with volunteer labor a home for the Taye family, refugees from Liberia who were resettled in Tucson through the efforts of HIAS and Jewish Family & Children’s Service. Hundreds of volunteers have come out from the Jewish and general community to assist with the building. The Tzedek Build home will be dedicated in conjunction with the JCRC Annual Meeting at a luncheon at the home site on Wednesday, October 7th.
As a complement to the Tzedek Build project, the JCRC in Tucson has taken a leadership role in engaging community leaders about the importance of planning efforts around affordable housing. Working together with Catholic Community Services and the Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson, a summit of community leaders was held in February to discuss ways to make affordable housing a priority issue in Southern Arizona. Leaders from the public sector (including the mayors of Tucson and four surrounding communities and the chairman of the Pima County Board of Supervisors), businesses, the nonprofit and faith communities, and the University of Arizona came together to discuss opportunities to better coordinate regional planning for affordable housing and started the groundwork for a regional planning task force. The task force has been convened initially by groups that have taken the lead in this community discussion, including the JCRC, Catholic Community Services, Habitat for Humanity Tucson, the Drachman Institute of the University of Arizona, United Way of Tucson, Community Foundation for Southern Arizona, and representatives from the City of Tucson, PimaCounty, and the Town of Marana.
Subsequent meetings have helped identify the specific communities and demographics impacted by affordable housing challenges, current efforts to address these challenges, opportunities for collaboration, needs for advocacy on relevant legislation, and resources that could assist coordinated efforts at a regional level (including an application for federal stimulus dollars). Meetings with the City and County housing commissions and Industrial Development Authorities have reinforced the momentum begun to work toward better regional planning and raise awareness about the critical challenges around affordable housing currently facing the Southern Arizona community. The JCRC in Tucson will continue its efforts around affordable housing issues long after the Tzedek Build home is completed. The partnerships developed in the process of this effort will have long lasting impacts, both in affordable housing and other social justice matters.