Archdiocesan Housing lends helping hand to people from all walks of life

Moira Cullings

Six months after Christina moved to Denver, she received an unpleasant, life-changing surprise.

Her rent jumped from $675 to $1,000 at the end of her lease. With her job as a server at an airport restaurant, Christina wouldn’t be able to afford such a dramatic rent increase. She would have to move again.

“I don’t know how people afford to live here, honestly,” said Christina.

Feeling out of options, she took a chance when a friend suggested looking into affordable housing.

Christina applied for the Archdiocesan Housing program, an affiliate of Catholic Charities, and received an offer for a one-bedroom apartment for much cheaper. Now, she can once again afford to live in Denver and keep her job, rather than move somewhere else and start all over again.

“It’s been a very good fit for me,” said Christina. “I find it a pretty quiet place to live, and I’ve always had very positive experiences with management.”

Broadway Junction in Denver allows residents to pay affordable rent and continue living in the city they love.

This year, Archdiocesan Housing is celebrating its 50th anniversary — five decades of serving a wide range of people in all walks of life, from the homeless to first-year teachers who could not otherwise afford to live in Denver.

Archdiocesan Housing was founded at the time of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, as well as the Fair Housing Act, which made it unlawful to refuse to sell, rent to or negotiate with someone based on categories like race, religion and status.

Now, the housing program is as needed as ever.

“The unfortunate state of Colorado and the nation is there’s an incredible affordable housing crisis,” said Justin Raddatz, Executive Director of Archdiocesan Housing.

“Within Colorado, one third of all renter households are paying more than 30 percent of their income towards rent,” he said. “Twenty five percent of renter households are paying more than half of their income towards rent.

“The crisis it creates is people in that situation saying, ‘Do I pay the rent bill, or do I buy medication for my family?’”

It’s been a very good fit for me.”

The program has grown tremendously over the years and now manages 1,700 apartment units, owning all but 200 of them. The units make up 29 properties, which are strategically located around Denver and beyond.

An example of the tactical placement is the program’s newest development — the Guadalupe Apartments in Greeley.

“It ties into a homeless shelter that Catholic Charities has operated for the last nine years,” said Raddatz. “On the same site, we built a 47-unit apartment building right across the parking lot to serve the folks that are coming through the shelter.”

The Guadalupe Apartments in Greeley are the newest development for Archdiocesan Housing and help those coming out of a homeless shelter just across the parking lot to find better stability.

Building an apartment near a homeless shelter is meant to help people begin a life of long-term stability, rather than exit temporary housing and end up struggling financially all over again or become completely homeless.

Raddatz explained it’s not difficult to fill the Archdiocesan Housing buildings, and that the average waiting list for a property is two to three years but can reach up to seven or eight years.

“What we’ve decided is we want to serve the most vulnerable,” said Raddatz. “In the affordable housing world, those are the people that are homeless or the closest to being homeless.”

Although the program seeks to help those particularly at rock bottom, each property is set up to serve a specific income range. Some serve families who are homeless, others serve first-year firefighters or those who work in fields that don’t require a degree. The properties are designed for individuals as well as families.

The program doesn’t serve anyone based on their religion, but on their need.

“We’re not in the business of serving people because they’re Catholic,” said Raddatz. “We serve people because we’re Catholic.”

Raddatz explained that the people in Archdiocesan Housing come from a variety of situational backgrounds, from substance abuse issues to PTSD to mental illness.

“As many residents as we have, we have that many backgrounds and stories about why they got to where they got,” said Raddatz. “The common thread is they didn’t have a support network like most of us do to help pick them up when they fell.”

We’re not in the business of serving people because they’re Catholic. We serve people because we’re Catholic.”

Many made bad decisions in their lives or went through unfortunate circumstances, he added.

“But they didn’t have anyone there to lend a hand when they needed help. We want to be that hand to help pick them up.”

To accommodate each individual even further, the program offers additional services including case management, counseling and job training to help each person with their particular situation.

Raddatz believes that what sets Archdiocesan Housing apart from other affordable housing options is the program’s compassion.

He and his team have a huge hope for those who enter Archdiocesan Housing, whether it happens immediately or years down the road.

“Ultimately, we’re trying to bring souls closer to Christ,” he said.

For more information, visit the Archdiocesan Housing website.

COMING UP: John Paul II, youth minister

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Pole that he was, Karol Wojtyla had a well-developed sense of historical irony. So from his present position in the Communion of Saints, he might be struck by the ironic fact that the Synod on “Youth, Faith, and Vocational Discernment,” currently underway in Rome, coincides with the 40th anniversary of his election as Pope John Paul II on October 16, 1978. What’s the irony? The irony is that the most successful papal youth minister in modern history, and perhaps all history, was largely ignored in Synod-2018’s working document. And the Synod leadership under Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri seems strangely reluctant to invoke either his teaching or his example.

But let’s get beyond irony. What are some lessons the Synod might draw from John Paul II, pied piper of the young, on this ruby anniversary of his election?

1. The big questions remain the same.

Several bishops at Synod-2018 have remarked that today’s young people are living in a completely different world than when the bishops in question grew up. There’s obviously an element of truth here, but there’s also a confusion between ephemera and the permanent things.

When Cardinal Adam Sapieha assigned young Father Wojtyla to St. Florian’s parish in 1948, in order to start a ministry to the university students who lived nearby, things in Cracow were certainly different than they were when Wojtyla was a student at the Jagiellonian University in 1938-39. In 1948, Poland was in the deep freeze of Stalinism and organized Catholic youth work was banned. The freewheeling social and cultural life in which Wojtyla had reveled before the Nazis shut down the Jagiellonian was no more, and atheistic propaganda was on tap in many classrooms. But Wojtyla knew that the Big Questions that engage young adults — What’s my purpose in life? How do I form lasting friendships? What is noble and what is base? How do I navigate the rocks and shoals of life without making fatal compromises? What makes for true happiness? — are always the same. They always have been, and they always will be.

To tell today’s young adults that they’re completely different is pandering, and it’s a form of disrespect. To help maturing adults ask the big questions and wrestle with the permanent things is to pay them the compliment of taking them seriously. Wojtyla knew that, and so should the bishops of Synod-2018.

2. Walking with young adults should lead somewhere.

Some of the Wojtyla kids from that university ministry at St. Florian’s have become friends of mine, and when I ask them what he was like as a companion, spiritual director, and confessor, they always stress two points: masterful listening that led to penetrating conversations, and an insistence on personal responsibility. As one of them once put it to me, “We’d talk for hours and he’d shed light on a question, but I never heard him say ‘You should do this.’ What he’d always say was, ‘You must choose’.” For Karol Wojtyla, youth minister, gently but persistently compelling serious moral decisions was the real meaning of “accompaniment” (a Synod-2018 buzzword).

3. Heroism is never out of fashion.

When, as pope, John Paul II proposed launching what became World Youth Day, most of the Roman Curia thought he had taken leave of his senses: young adults in the late-20th century just weren’t interested in an international festival involving catechesis, the Way of the Cross, confession, and the Eucharist. John Paul, by contrast, understood that the adventure of leading a life of heroic virtue was just as compelling in late modernity as it had been in his day, and he had confidence that future leaders of the third millennium of Christian history would answer that call to adventure.

That didn’t mean they’d be perfect. But as he said to young people on so many occasions, “Never, ever settle for anything less than the spiritual and moral grandeur that God’s grace makes possible in your life. You’ll fail; we all do. But don’t lower the bar of expectation. Get up, dust yourself off, seek reconciliation. But never, ever settle for anything less than the heroism for which you were born.”

That challenge — that confidence that young adults really yearn to live with an undivided heart — began a renaissance in young adult and campus ministry in the living parts of the world Church. Synod-2018 should ponder this experience and take it very, very seriously.