The Rev. Shancia Jarrett was recently featured in an article in the New Haven Independent featuring some of the important work she is doing as Affordable Housing Commission Consultant in New Haven. The article focused on Shancia’s work in developing a Below-Market Rental registry, and highlighted her focus on the need for affordable housing in Connecticut.
We wondered how Shancia’s experiences as a follower of Christ and a priest in The Episcopal Church have influenced and impacted her work in affordable housing…so we asked her.
How did you get started in this work?
During my latter years of seminary, I was intrigued by Aldo Leopard’s philosophy on Land Ethics and the theology of Creation. Through this understanding, I focused on four theological truths: (1) God created the Earth (land) prior to humanity (2) God bestowed blessings of goodness on Creation in its entirety and entrusted and equipped humanity with the virtuous wisdom to care for the Earth, (3) God is just and loving, (4) Out of Divine love each person is a bestowed the goodness of life and situated by the Divine in a place and that place for me embodied a home. With the gifts of knowledge, wisdom, and of technology the idea of home has significantly evolved with human development through disciplines of architecture and sustainability.
Ironically, theological truths were further stimulated within economics courses where I developed educational resources on the disparate impact and the monetary and public costs of lead poisoning awareness efforts among children and youth development. As a result of this project, I was invited by the city of New Haven to present my research and a proposed petition for the Environmental Protection Agency. To my surprise, within this meeting, I was hired to convene New Haven’s Affordable Housing Commission. I never imagined that developers and versed housing advocates would validate and invest in the recommendations of a Divinity student.
Where have you found joy in this work?
My engagement with housing extends beyond norms of typical work. Similarly to contemporary theologians, my engagement revolves on a “theology of work that does not begin with our understanding of what God wants us to do or even how to do it. It begins with the God who has revealed the Divine in Creation and Redemption, and who shows us how to follow Christ by being formed in the Divine character.” For me, the Divine character of God is love. I love what I am doing and the people with whom I collaborate to promote awareness.
Also, in light of this quotation, I acknowledge that many are on a quest to find their vocations, but housing found me. Somehow, my passion for Land Ethics and Creation revealed and prepared me to engage housing disparities within morally ethical and economic models of community development. As I reflect on the genesis of my career in housing, publications, and facilitation skills, I am overwhelmed with joy to efficiently collaborate with the commissioners whose expertise range from legal scholarship, development, housing advocacy, community members, formerly homeless individuals, parents, and activism. From these experiences and professional transitions, my colleagues and Commissioners have shaped my formation and challenged me to become an informed voice on housing.
What has broken your heart?
The challenges of uninformed opposition to affordable housing are disheartening. For instance, one of the greatest misconceptions is the belief that it is restricted to low income families, however, that is a dense interpretation of housing economics. Low-income families are indeed vulnerable to housing burdens; however, the government offers significant housing subsidies to assist such families. On the other hand, non-subsidized households such as those with an annual income of greater than $73,000 and non-disabled senior citizens have significant housing burdens and exhaust more than 50% of their income to compensate for the housing market’s increased rental and home purchasing rates.
How do you see this work as participating in God’s Mission in Connecticut?
I strongly affirm that the church has a commitment to living out the ministries of the Gospel while administering its sacraments. For instance, during the first century, Early Christians worshiped in the homes of patrons and Apostles. Historically, the priesthood and my theological education is the spiritual and transformative home or the place where God situated me to participate in housing ministry. Without the theological training and support of the ECCT, I would not have had the versatility to become a bi-vocational priest and to share my ministries. It is an honor for ECCT to recognize and share my advocacy efforts.
What is one thing people could do to participate in this work?
One thing people could do to participate is to remember and to listen to God’s loving Divine character and the importance of having a home, a place to live, and how it shapes our understanding of the environment and development as an individual, a church, and a society. It may sound harsh, but I do not encourage churches to naively advocate for affordable housing. Instead, I invite them to prayerfully discern its need and their willingness to listen to the testimonies of housing vulnerable populations. Thus, allowing their advocacy to develop sustainability, and to establish internal support, and community partnerships. Churches and individuals interested in exploring affordable housing can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.