Catholic Campaign for Human Development -- seeking justice for the poor

One small part of the work that the Archdiocese of Boston does comes under the title of Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD). The title is correct from a dictionary standpoint, but it doesn't shed much light on what it is or does.

The Catholic Campaign for Human Development is a national exercise focused on anti-poverty programs. CCHD is focused on social justice and community organizations led by low-income people. For some, the term "anti-poverty program" brings up thoughts of direct service efforts, such as food pantries and soup kitchens. These programs address an acute need and are very important. However, CCHD takes a different approach. CCHD was founded by and is managed by the Catholic bishops in the U.S. through the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). CCHD is focused on carrying out the mission of Jesus Christ "to bring good news to the poor ... release to the captives ... sight to the blind and let the oppressed go free." (Luke 4:18)

The program was started in the 70s with the belief that those directly affected by unjust systems and structures have the best insight into knowing how to change them. The model is based on "the poor helping the poor" to build a way out of poverty. CCHD works to break the cycle of poverty by helping low-income people participate in decisions that affect their lives, families, and communities. CCHD offers a hand up, not a handout.

As CCHD provides grants to qualifying organizations, it also raises awareness of the issues and challenges low-income people face. Society today is spinning so fast that parishioners and people in the suburbs can be totally unaware of the hunger, homelessness, and unemployment that exist two parishes over in the next town. CCHD grantees look to address issues such as food insecurity, prejudicial law enforcement practices in neighborhoods and communities, unfair banking practices, no-fault evictions (evicting tenants without reason), wage theft (not paying full wages for work completed), lack of safe and affordable housing, affordable and efficient transportation, unequal access to health and dental care and mental health services, which are daily challenges that affect some of us every day. Educating Catholics about injustice and hardships can lead toward righting injustice and pushing for equity.

The CCHD annual collection allows CCHD to fund grants to qualified organizations. In 2022, seven organizations received CCHD grants: The Lynn Worker Center, Greater Boston Interfaith Organization, Intervalley Project (operating in Merrimack Valley, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Vermont), Boston Neighborhood Community Land Trust, Shine Together Cleaning and Catering Co-Op in Lynn, Essex County Community Organization in Lynn, and the Coalition for a Better Acre in Lowell. Grants in the Archdiocese of Boston totaled $360,000.

The rigorous process of managing submissions, reviewing and forwarding grants to Washington, D.C., as well as overseeing the grants once they are awarded, is managed by a committee of dedicated and talented individuals. The members of the committee that advise Cardinal O'Malley include Father Gerald Osterman (chair), Father Frank Cloherty, Father Bryan Hehir, Father William Joy, Sister Barbara Gutierrez, Antoinette Leoney, Joe Vallely, and me.

The grants provide some support to organizations that, in one way or another, are focused on helping poor people find a way to step up and out of poverty. The grant rules stipulate that the boards of these organizations are made up of the people they serve. Most of these organizations are focused on community organizing and establish their priorities by talking to dozens and dozens of people in their communities every week.

One of the organizations that was awarded a grant last year is the Boston Neighborhood Community Land Trust. Their director, Meridith Levy, recently presented the story of their latest property acquisition at a CCHD Committee Meeting.

The landlord of a six-unit, three-story building in Dorchester at 6 Humphreys Place was attempting to evict the tenants and repurpose the building for luxury housing. The tenants resisted the no-fault eviction. Over four years and with two different owners, the landlords tried to evict the tenants several times, and after community organizing and seeking other remedies, the tenants went to court. The tenants prevailed, and the judge ordered that the landlord was not able to charge rent for five years unless the building deficiencies were corrected.

BNCLT, working closely with the tenants, made an offer to buy the building. It was rejected, but they made another offer that was finally accepted. BNCLT closed on the building in December 2022. BNCLT was able to put together a financing package that included a "soft" loan from the City of Boston and from Boston Medical Center through Boston Opportunity System, a large gift from an individual donor, and an acquisition loan from The Life Initiative.

The funding secured the building and also financed renovations to all the units, correcting problems that had not been addressed for years. During the renovation process, the tenants had an active voice in the work and could remain in their homes. They were now members of the "BNCLT community" that includes tenants from other BNCLT properties nearby. Each building is able to participate in regular meetings with BNCLT. Tenants became leaders within the organization and started participating in the decision making.

The next step for Meridith and BNCLT was to find a way for the tenants to pay the rent. Meridith found operational subsidies in the form of project-based vouchers that would allow the tenants to pay their rent. The City of Boston offers vouchers for tenants whose income is below 50 percent of the average median income. BNCLT was awarded these vouchers, which enable extremely low- and zero-income tenants to live there because the vouchers make up the remaining rent.

This project will make a difference for six families -- for a long time. The Catholics in the archdiocese had an important role in supporting this project that helped secure a safe home for these families.

This is one example of our Catholic Church acting out our Gospel call to serve others. By supporting Meridith Levy and BNCLT, Boston Catholics are helping families find housing security and, through this work of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, offering hope to many more people who might need help in the future.