Close to 30 individuals with experience in affordable housing gathered at the Pastoral Center of the Diocese of St. Petersburg on August 14th to discuss how to address an important community need – housing for low-income, working families and individuals.
“We believe every person has the right to a decent place to live and a safe place to live,” said Bishop Gregory Parkes. “We as a Church believe we can make a difference.”
The meeting was the first-ever “Bishop’s Community Forum on Affordable Housing” and it was the first step in achieving one of the goals set forth by the new mutually shared vision of the Diocese, Courageously Living the Gospel. One of the goals identified in the Vision is to help establish 8-10 new locations of affordable housing in our community.
Frank Murphy, Secretary for Administration, was integral in organizing the Forum. He identified key individuals in our community who have the expertise and resources needed to achieve this goal.
“We’re eager to partner with community groups and agencies to provide more affordable housing for people in our community,” said Murphy. “The most important thing is to provide as much affordable housing as possible to the working poor.”
The attendees represented private and public entities and areas such as banking, law and real estate development. Leaders from Catholic Charities of the Diocese of St. Petersburg and the St. Vincent de Paul Society were also in attendance.
Kevin Cantu, a development manager for Southport Financial Services who attends Christ the King Parish in Tampa, participated in the Forum.
“It was great to learn more about what the Diocese has in mind for affordable housing and to meet people who are involved in this area. I have a few ideas to offer and I am pretty excited,” said Cantu.
“It was an honor to be invited,” said Kathryn Driver, Executive Director of Pinellas County Housing Authority. “There was a good mix of people and this was a good way to connect with others and learn how we can work together.”
Cheryl Howell, Affordable Housing Director of Hillsborough County, said she attended because she sees the issue of affordable housing as a regional issue. She is looking forward to collaborating on addressing the need. “This was a great start,” she said.
Catholic Charities and the Diocese of St. Petersburg currently operate 20 affordable housing properties. Many of the people served are not Catholic.
“We are called to serve the last, the lost and least as a way to express our love for the Lord,” said Bishop Parkes. “Jesus said whatever you do for one of these, you do for me.”
The next step will involve forming three separate groups to address the details surrounding affordable housing projects. The groups are: Leadership, Financial and Real Estate.