Finding affordable housing or rental assistance when you have a felony conviction is a real struggle. One place you can turn to for help is Catholic Charities, which provides housing and rental assistance to people in great need.
The United States Census Bureau data reveal that 11.6% of the population lives in poverty. That amounts to 37.9 million people, many of whom require economical housing to relieve their burden. Many of these individuals have a felony conviction.
Catholic Charities USA confronts this problem with an affordable housing program committed to making homelessness a thing of the past.
What Is Catholic Charities USA?
For more than a hundred years, Catholic Charities USA has brought people together to form a collective that faces the scourge of poverty head-on. It began life as the National Conference of Catholic Charities (NCCC) intending to serve as the “attorney” of the poor.
In other words, the NCCC aimed to represent those in need when no other prominent voices or figures would do so.
In 1986, the NCCC became Catholic Charities USA, reflecting its desire to become a national advocacy agency, while also making its purpose simpler: to help those in poverty.
Since then, the organization has created numerous programs including its affordable housing initiatives, in addition to coordinating disaster relief efforts on behalf of the American branch of the Catholic Church.
Did you know? Catholic Charities USA formalized an agreement with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 1990 to make it the main coordinator of the Catholic Church’s disaster relief efforts.
Today, its vision is as clear as it ever was: to serve those in need with the goal of eradicating poverty in the United States. But rather than offering indirect help through funding and donations to other charities, Catholic Charities USA takes its efforts to the streets. It works directly with those in need to create a better America.
Catholic Charities Housing Project
The Catholic Charities Affordable Housing Project arose from the organization’s belief that having access to housing is a human right, rather than a privilege.
It points out the scale of this battle on its website (adding to the U.S. Census Bureau’s commentary on poverty), by pointing out that homelessness increased by 3% between 2019 and 2020.
In short, housing is a challenge.
According to the charity, over 396,000 people experience homelessness, with 37,085 veterans among their numbers.
Confronted with the scale of this problem, Catholic Charities USA set up a website named “Affordable Housing Begins with a Key.”
The concept is simple. Catholic Charities USA aims to create seven million units of affordable housing to provide shelter to families and individuals struggling with homelessness.
How Is Catholic Charities Making a Difference?
Catholic Charities USA fights on three fronts in the battle for affordable housing:
Services, including rental assistance and temporary shelter, to the most vulnerable people in the country.
Preservation of affordable housing that already exists and building new housing as part of development projects dedicated to affordability.
Advocacy to both the government and the population at large for fair housing policy change.
To fight these battles, the organization works alongside community-based housing providers and local individuals.
As identified on their “Affordable Housing Begins with a Key” website, the results for 2022 speak for themselves. In that year, the group provided $342 million in emergency rental assistance to families and individuals in need.
It also offered almost a tenth of that amount in utility assistance, essentially helping many families to keep the lights on. Plus, it committed $2.5 million to prevent evictions.
The organization puts its money where its mouth is, with nearly half a billion dollars invested into housing and aid projects last year alone.
Developing and Preserving Affordable Housing Units
Catholic Charities USA maintains several “member agencies” across the country, each with the responsibility for furthering its goals through community-focused housing projects.
This approach of creating a network of local agencies flourished in its efforts to preserve and build affordable housing units last year. The group currently owns 34,580 units. Each contains a family or individual earning a low or moderate income.
A focus on transforming disused buildings and land into housing underpins the group’s efforts. For instance, it rehabilitates unused or unneeded church properties into stable housing developments, rather than leaving them as monuments to Christianity.
That is, they demonstrate their devotion through action rather than words. Similar work is done on disused school buildings and other properties.
Further efforts focus on extending the lifespan of existing housing stock to make it habitable for many more years. These projects often involve extensive renovation, but they serve a dual purpose of providing more affordable housing and ensuring that useful buildings don’t fall into disrepair.
Fighting for Fair Housing Policy Change
On the third front of its battle, Catholic Charities takes the fight directly to Congress with its advocacy work. It argues for nationwide efforts, supported by both the federal and local governments, to build more affordable housing for those in need.
Their target: housing inequity.
The charity argues that the pace of housing development isn’t keeping up with the number of people who require housing. This situation creates a powder keg, with prices rising due to low supply, making it harder for in-need families to afford mortgages and rent. By increasing housing stock, supply increases to meet demand. More affordable housing is the natural result.
Pro Tip: If you’d like to help Catholic Charities USA, you can advocate for fair housing to Congress through several organizations. Beyond the charity, groups like the National Fair Housing Alliance and Fair Housing Federation have similar goals.
How Can You Get Housing Help From Catholic Charities?
The most direct way to get help from Catholic Charities is to contact the nationwide organization. Those with access to email can send correspondence to firstname.lastname@example.org to get the ball rolling on their efforts to find housing. You can also write directly to the organization at the following address:
2050 Ballenger Ave, Suite 400,
Alexandria, VA 22314
Alternatively, call 703-549-1390 to speak to a member of the group directly. Whichever method you use, Catholic Charities USA will direct you to a local branch that can help with your issue.
It’s worth noting that the Catholic Charities USA office doesn’t offer housing services directly, instead acting as a conduit to the branches of the group that handles the work on the local scale.
However, it’s worth repeating that Catholic Charities USA conducts much of its work through local groups that are either direct partners of the group or affiliated with it. Contacting one of those groups directly may help you achieve a faster result.
It’s easy to find your local Catholic Charities group via the main organization’s “Find Help” tool. Entering your ZIP code, state, or city into the tool reveals a list of local branches of Catholic Charities that you can contact to ask about their affordable housing programs.
You can also search via a list of states on the group’s website to find the closest branch to you. There are 167 Catholic Charities USA agencies nationwide, usually meaning there are several per state.
Finally, it appears that the group has no blanket eligibility requirements for its affordable housing projects. Each agency likely has its own guidelines, approved by the head Catholic Charities USA office, that you may need to meet to gain housing or assistance.
Making Affordable Housing Available to More People
Catholic Charities USA’s stance that affordable housing is a human right underpins everything that it does.
Its advocacy argues this point and its direct efforts – developing housing, preserving existing units, or offering financial aid to those in need – demonstrate its commitment.
The organization focuses on five groups: seniors, veterans, disabled adults, those experiencing homelessness, and low-income families or people.
If you fall into any category, contact your local Catholic Charities USA agency (remember – you can use the “Find Help” tool to locate them) to discuss your needs and get either temporary or permanent aid.
About The Author
Joe is the founder of HireFelons.org. Having had friends and co-workers who have a felony conviction, Joe Hunter decided to use his expert knowledge in starting a successful business to launch HireFelons.org and teach as many former felons as possible how to earn a decent income, when finding a traditional job is simply not an option.