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Four Lutheran churches collaborate to build affordable housing units

By Deidre Jacobson

Spokane Urban Ministries (SUM), a collaboration of four Lutheran churches serving housing and related needs of the urban poor, broke ground in July and began construction in August for 47 new affordable apartments in two locations off Walnut St. in West Central Spokane. 

Emmanuel, Grace, St Paul and Salem Lutheran churches, and Salem Arms, a nonprofit that provides 18 affordable housing units for mentally ill people, are the SUM members. Jubilee Community and Housing Ministries are associate members. 

The Rev. James Kashork, pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Spokane Valley, is the president of SUM.  

Walnut Apartments
Drawing show Walnut Corners building planned on Broadway

The Walnut Corners residents at the Broadway site will live in 18 single-bedroom units.  That building will also have about 1,650 square feet of commercial space on the ground floor.

Spokane Urban Ministries hopes to fill that space with organizations providing services for the neighborhood.

The Mallon site will offer 28 units of affordable housing with one-, two- and three-bedroom units.  SUM is negotiating with others to manage the properties.

 “Salem Lutheran has made a special point of walking with the people of the West Central community for 25 years, and our SUM partners have had a similar commitment to their neighborhoods,” said the Rev. Tom Soeldner, Salem’s pastor since 2003. 

In 1990, Salem congregation formed Salem Arms.  It also works with Our Place Community Ministries, the Faith and Environment Network (FEN), the Spokane Alliance, Emmanuel Meals, Project Hope and Riverfront Farms.  The Book Parlor bookstore and neighborhood drop-in center is a ministry of Salem.  The FEN and VOICES for Opportunity, Income, Child Care, Education and Support have offices at Salem Lutheran, 1428 W. Broadway.

In 2005, Salem established a task force to determine how to use property owned by the church, a half city block on Mallon Street between Walnut and Cedar and a half city block on Broadway, across from the church,

Employing the expertise of Common Ground, a nonprofit, low-income housing developer, the task force recommended that the properties be used for affordable housing. 

The people of Salem voted overwhelmingly to support the project and donate the church’s properties, Tom said.

SUM’s other member churches—Emmanuel, Grace, and St Paul—each contributed $25,000 for initial costs.  Salem Arms contributed property for the project. 

Common Ground helped Spokane Urban Ministries apply for additional funds from the City of Spokane, Spokane County, the Washington State Housing Trust Fund and low-income housing tax-credits through the Washington State Housing Finance Commission. The cost of the project is about $9.5 million.

“Spokane lost more than 200 units of low-income housing in recent years as downtown property has been taken up by high-end condominiums and commercial buildings. Spokane Urban Ministries hopes that this will be the first of many projects that will focus on affordable housing and building healthy neighborhoods,” said Tom.

He also noted that increasing property values in West Central make it difficult for mid- to low-income people to own a home.  More than half of the houses in the neighborhood are rentals.

Tom is not new to urban ministry, He has walked the streets of downtown Seattle on Nightwatch Ministry, helped initiate the Jefferson County Domestic Violence program and ministered to the inner city poor in Johannesburg, South Africa. 

He has also served in rural churches and suburban areas, but senses he is always directed back to ministry with those struggling to survive in the city. 

Recognizing that the urban poor have “so many needs,” Tom said that “one must purposely close one’s eyes not to see those needs.”

Tom expects Walnut Corners will open in July 2009. 

For information, call 328-6280.