March 8 - 14, 2004



A Good Time To Ask Questions


  • In Cape Cod the median cost of a house more than doubled from $147,000 in 1999 to $310,000 in 2003.
  • In Los Angeles County, the median cost of a single-family house is $390,830, a 91 percent jump since 1989. But in the same time, median wages went up by 53 percent.
  • In Vermont, the median cost of a single-family home rose 54 percent since 1996 while wages grew only 20 percent.
  • In Tampa, Fla., the median cost of a house rose 58 percent from 1998 to 2003, while in Clearwater it rose 45 percent.

 In Rockland County, outside of New York City, real estate prices have been advancing at double digits in recent years, so now it’s not uncommon to see ordinary houses selling for $750,000. A newspaper serving the area laments that now many of the middle-class members of the community – such as police officers and schoolteachers – can no longer afford to live there.


“What will society be like if only the poor and the rich live in a community?” asks an editorial in The Journal News. “Where will our volunteer firefighters, ambulance corps workers and other community-involved people come from? Where will our workers live?”


As the affordable-housing crisis continues unabated in many parts of the nation, people of faith who value stewardship can – and should – raise important questions of fairness. Why are housing prices advancing so much faster than most people’s income?


The answer has much to do with the widening gap between rich and poor. Housing prices are so high because someone can afford to pay those prices.  Enough someones to drive up the cost through the roof. In recent years, as this space has noted, income for the wealthiest members of society has dramatically increased while the poor and middle class have only kept pace or actually lost ground.


The global economy has not been good for ordinary American wage earners. Some three million manufacturing jobs have been lost in the last four years, and now the latest furor is that high technology jobs – once seen as a haven for America’s workforce – are being “offshored” to India and other places.


The recently settled grocery workers strike in Southern California sends an ominous signal for the future of labor. The new contract sets a two-tiered level of wages and benefits -- one for existing employees and a lower one for those not yet hired.  In other words, good jobs at good wages are not in the long-term future for grocery workers in California. How will they ever afford the $390,830 price of a home in Los Angeles County?


In his article featured this week Martin E. Marty praises Habitat for Humanity, which has done much not only to raise the issue of affordable housing but also provide a solution for thousands of families. Habitat has worked miracles with the help of churches throughout the nation.


But as eagerly as we people of faith are to pound nails, lay floors and put up wallboard, we should also eagerly ask hard questions of the economic system that makes it difficult for a hard-working family to afford housing. We should demand creative, fair answers of our elected officials – and those who are seeking political office.


With the White House, a third of the U.S. Senate and all of the House of Representatives all up for election this year, 2004 is a good time to ask questions. Inspired? Check out “Elections Matter: Vote to End Hunger,” a free resource from the Bread for the World Institute.


 -Rob Blezard, Editor and Webmaster (

New This Week, March 8 - 14
 Carter Decries Growing Income Gap
Former President Jimmy Carter said Americans have "failed miserably" at sharing our wealth with the world. In the keynote address at the 16th Nobel Peace Prize Forum at the ELCA's St. Olaf College, Carter said half the world's people live on less than $2 a day, he said.  "That includes shelter, food, clothing.  And as you can quickly see there is nothing left over for an education, health care or self-respect or for hope." From the ELCA News Service. 

 Athletes Putting Their Faith In Action

 "We may never know what all of the Christian athletes give, or in the many ways they give, nor is it any of our business to know how much money they give, but we do know that many of these athletes practice Christian humility and put their "faith in action" on the playing field and off. These highly-skilled athletes are thankful for their God-given abilities which makes them so great. " By the Ralph Gould, from the Lutheran Laity Movement Archives.



 Kicking the Consumer Habit
Some of us come to stewardship late in life.  Rather than being taught how to put God first and plan our lives around first fruits, we have already committed to big mortgages and a lifestyle that can threaten to consume more and more money all the time.  In Dana Reardon's weekly reflection.




 Don't ''Trash' Your Blessings
"The memory of how God blesses you can fade as fast as ice melts in the freshly brewed tea of an iced tea maker. The realization of what God gives is tossed aside as easily as wadding up a paper towel and tossing it in the trash. You don't give it a second thought."  StewardLife from the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod



Martin E. Marty on Habitat for Humanity
"Millard Fuller, founder of Habitat, and his colleagues and volunteers have modeled how one can be motivated by a particular religious 'story' to be hospitable to others. Habitat now builds in numbers of dominantly Muslim nations, has attracted Jewish support, and never asks the creed of those with whom they work, thus proving that 'particular' faith and the 'common good' can intersect." From Sightings, published by the Martin Marty Center.