This past spring while discussing edits to our anniversary newsletter with my daughter Ella, she remarked, “You know Dad, it seems that most of the projects at Catholic Worker Hospitality House that have been successful over the years have been the ones to do with housing.” I had never thought of that before, but she was right. Whether it’s our emergency homeless shelter, our transitional housing for people coming out of prison or our various permanent affordable housing units, there is such a need for housing that it’s hard to go wrong. At the risk of spouting a cliché: “If you build it they will come.”
I think particularly about our boarding houses. Whenever someone has the opportunity to get a room in one of our houses they feel like they’ve won the lottery. They are shocked to learn that they’ll have their own room in a nice house for such a minimal rent. I let them know that as long as they keep the place clean, are a good roommate, and pay rent, they’ll have a room for as long as they like. I always tell them, “This is permanent housing; it’s neither short term nor transitional.”
Catholic Worker Hospitality House exists to respond to the needs of our community and over the years we have tried a variety of projects to address different problems our guests face. This disbelief our boarding house residents feel when they’re first invited to live in one of our houses is due to how unaffordable living has become in the Bay Area. In the Bay Area there is the one overarching problem that permeates everything – the high cost of housing. With rent prices soaring for decades, even when our guests have full-time jobs or are receiving Social Security checks, those we serve are often unable to pay the exorbitant price of rent that has now become “normal.” It should not be normal for people to be working full-time jobs and still struggle to feed and house themselves. Therefore, it’s not really surprising that our housing projects have been the most successful. It’s the greatest issue our guests face and the biggest problem in our community. So of course the profoundest way we can impact their lives is by providing affordable, permanent housing.
It’s an obvious problem with an obvious solution, but it took us a while to realize that we had the ability to provide some of this much-needed affordable housing. We had been operating our dining room and homeless shelter for ten years before we started using the Second Ave house in San Bruno as a boarding house fifteen years ago and it was such a success that when money became available we purchased a house in South San Francisco to provide more housing, then later added on to the Second Ave house when funds once again became available. We are always looking for an opportunity to increase the amount of permanent affordable housing we are able to offer those we serve as the need just continues to increase.
Well, we’re expanding again. For at least 15 years Kate and I have dreamed of building an ADU (auxiliary dwelling unit, “in-law unit”) in the backyard of our Second Ave. house. Until recently city zoning restrictions prevented us from doing so, but over the past few years state mandated changes to those regulations now make it possible for us to build the ADU of our dreams. This ADU will allow us to expand the amount of permanent affordable housing we are able to provide to those we serve at our dining room and homeless shelter.
After years of dreaming and planning, events are now moving fast. In mid-July we received final approval of our building plans from the San Bruno building department. As I write in late August we are deciding upon a contractor and expect to break ground on the project in early September. If all goes well the ADU will be completed and occupied by January or February of 2022. We will keep you apprised of the building progress in upcoming newsletters, as well as on our website and Facebook page.
Can you help us make this dream a reality? We expect the project to cost $350,000. We have already raised $200,000, but will need another $150,000 to complete the project. We realize this is a huge sum of money, but it has been our experience over the years that many people giving whatever they can allows us to do great things. Any amount you can give will be helpful in enabling us to complete this project.
As always we thank you for your ongoing support of our work. Your generosity enables us to not only maintain our current service projects, but to have the courage to make our big dreams a reality.
In Christ’s Peace,
For all of us at
Catholic Worker Hospitality House