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Houses in the neighborhood

Christians in New York gather to discuss the problem of housing in an expensive city

Houses in the neighborhood

The Henry Rutgers Houses, a public housing development built and maintained by the New York City Housing Authority. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

A New York moment:

On Monday night almost 200 people packed out an upper room of W83 Ministry Center, the Upper West Side building where Redeemer Presbyterian Church meets, to talk about housing. It’s a hot topic in one of the most expensive places to live in the country and where homelessness is at the highest levels since the Great Depression.

Habitat for Humanity’s Matt Dunbar shared a blur of numbers: a third of New Yorkers are spending more than half of their income on housing. Nearly 300,000 New Yorkers are on the waiting list for public housing. Only a third of New Yorkers own homes (on average, two-thirds of Americans do). A record 63,000 are now in the city shelter system, and another 3,000 to 5,000 are homeless on the streets. Event organizers from Hope for New York had posted a phone number where audience members could send questions, and they got a tsunami.

Before the event wrapped up, a pastor in East Harlem, José Humphreys from Metro Hope Covenant Church, gave a theological framework for church members to think about housing.

“There are deep realities of place and belonging throughout all of Scripture,” he said, quoting Eugene Peterson’s interpretation of John 1: “The Word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood.” Humphreys added: “How we show up in neighborhoods is not a neutral or ahistorical or apolitical act. We are connected to redemptive history over time.”

Worth your time:  

Alan Jacobs, one of my favorite cultural commentators, has this brief thought about the vengeance that social media metes out: “When a society rejects the Christian account of who we are, it doesn’t become less moralistic but far more so, because it retains an inchoate sense of justice but has no means of offering and receiving forgiveness.”

This week I learned:

The Mosul Museum has partially reopened following the looting and destruction of its antiquities by Islamic State. From New York I covered the Islamic State looting of antiquities in 2015, because New York auction houses were navigating possibly stolen items. Related to this story was the U.S. government’s confiscation in 2017 of thousands of items from the Museum of the Bible due to the items’ unclear origins in Iraq.

ZAID AL-OBEIDI/AFP/Getty Images

A man looks at paintings displayed in a contemporary art exhibit at the Mosul Museum of northern Iraq on Jan. 29. (ZAID AL-OBEIDI/AFP/Getty Images)

A court case you might not know about:

Becket Law, which represents clients from all religious backgrounds, helped win a stay of execution for a Buddhist inmate on the grounds that the state had violated his religious rights. Becket attorney Luke Goodrich had a good thread on why the religious freedom claims prevailed in this case, but not in another recent death penalty case.

Culture I am consuming:

World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen played blitz chess games with random people on the internet, some of them grandmasters, while providing his own running commentary. He seemed to enjoy himself, and it’s so fun to watch how quickly his brain works.

For example, in this three-minute game against an international master, Carlsen finds himself unprepared for the position his opponent plays and the game goes down to the final second in a blur of moves. “Magnus will lose this one,” said someone in the live chat. Not so fast—in addition to being the classical chess champion, he’s the world blitz champion for a reason.

Email me with tips, story ideas, and feedback at ebelz@wng.org