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Acton Institute writer, who has no experience with tenants, landlords or property management companies believes that Christian landlords would be the best kind of landlords

January 5, 2023

Rachel Ferguson, a professor and contributing writer for the Grand Rapids Far Right Think Tank, the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, believes that Christian Landlords would make the best kind of landlords.

Her article from January 4th, Why Christians Should Be (the Best) Landlords, is based upon a social media argument she had with Kevin Nye, who is a Housing Director at an organization addressing youth homelessness in Minnesota.

In the typically condescending language that Acton writers engage in, Rachel Ferguson demonstrates her own by writing: 

I have a real soft spot for people who put their money where their mouth is and do the hard work of helping people whose issues can be incredibly hard to face. At the same time, sincerity and effort don’t make up for ignorance. In fact, as we’ve seen in cases like Prohibition, sincere, God-fearing, hardworking people who believe in radical action for the marginalized can create outcomes that are far, far worse than if they’d done nothing at all. So, with real respect to Mr. Nye for his personal intervention in the lives of the homeless, we’ve got to review what’s wrong with his views on landlords, rent, and eviction—not to “own the libs” but for the sake of the homeless themselves.

Now, it is important to note that Professor Ferguson has no direct experience with the issues surrounding tenants, tenant rights, eviction, predatory landlords and property management companies. Her opinion and her knowledge background is in the area of her own theological interpretation of Christianity and her deep commitment to free market Capitalism.

I’m not really interested in for or against arguments about whether or not Christians should be landlords or would be the best landlords, but the arguments that Professor Ferguson uses are weak and rather misleading. This was the case the last time an Acton writer addresses tenant evictions in an article from September of 2021. Another Acton writer, Noah Gould, in an article entitled, Banning evictions poses harm for low-income renters, argues that the eviction ban was bad because it was some liberal scheme. Gould cites President Biden’s decision to extend the eviction moratorium, but fails to mention that it began under President Trump, because the CDC decided it was cruel and inhuman to evict people in the middle of a pandemic.

I agree, that evicting renters in the middle of a pandemic is a brutally cruel practice. The Acton writer in the 2021 article opposing a moratorium on evictions also fails to mentions that lots of property management companies and landlords received federal funding in the form of PPP loans, in which most did not have to pay it back. One Property Management Company that the Grand Rapids Area Tenant Union is currently dealing with is KMG Prestige. KMG Prestige owns numerous rental properties in this area and in other communities. Interestingly enough, KMG Prestige applied for a PPP loan during the COVID pandemic and was given $7,845,514, which was forgiven. So, the idea that landlords weren’t making any money during the pandemic, is simply false. 

Radical Hospitality

As a counter to the narrative from the Acton Institute about tenant evictions and Christian landlords, I think it is important to talk about a long practiced tradition within religious and non-religious traditions, where Radical Hospitality is practiced. 

When I was younger and studying to be a Catholic Priest, I learned about Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Movement. Day, who was a young adult during the Great Depression, co-founded the first Catholic Worker houses with Peter Maurin. Catholic Worker Houses were houses of hospitality, that provided a safe place for people to sleep, meals and a case by case time frame for people to get back on their feet economically to get their own apartment of house. In addition, Catholic Worker houses practices simple living and were actively involved in opposing US involvement in war and the amount of money the US government spent on the annual military budget. The Catholic Worker Movement argued that money that is being spent on militarism should be spent on housing and other basic necessities for the millions who are housing insecure. 

In Grand Rapids, the first Catholic Worker Houses began in the 1970s. The first was the Grimke House, named after the abolitionist Grimke sisters. Then in 1984, I was part of creating a place called the Koinonia House, which was modeled on the Catholic Worker. We provided hospitality to over 300 individuals and families during a 20 year period. Koinonia house was our home and we treated those who were housing insecure as our guests for however long they needed. We also opposed war, US military intervention and US military spending. In the summer of 1990, many of us were involved in a Homes Not Bombs campaign (pictured here), where we built shanties in front of the US Federal Building in Downtown Grand Rapids to make a point about the disparities in spending on weapons of mass death versus spending on housing for people in our communities. We even created fact sheets to distribute to people, showing the huge disparity between money for bombs as opposed to money for housing. (See below)

For Acton Institute writers, like Rachel Ferguson, who want to spend their energy arguing that Christians make the best landlords, we think it is more effective and more important to talk about housing justice and why it is important to think about and create housing justice outside of the For Profit framework.

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