Affordable Housing Advocacy

Stephen Ziff ‘s work on affordable housing and the Social Action Committee connects him with other Bet Shalom members. Check out his involvement and what it means to him.

Volunteering and participating in services and classes at Bet Shalom have allowed me to meet a lot of my co-congregants over the years. I feel a kinship with fellow congregants with whom I have volunteered or who I know are involved in another capacity at a Bet Shalom event. I look forward to different activities not only for the activity but also for the relationship with the other congregants. You start out because of interest in the activity but stay involved because of the relationships and the activity.  I spend a significant part of my life with my “family of friends” through involvement at Bet Shalom. Sharing our hopes and concerns with each other supports me as we build a community at Bet Shalom that is working toward Tikkun Olam (repairing the world) in affordable housing/homelessness, social/racial justice, environmental/climate change, food insecurity, and domestic and gun violence which are the pillars of the Social Action Committee (SAC). I am grateful to Bet Shalom for giving me these opportunities.

I have found advocating for affordable housing through Bet Shalom’s SAC both rewarding and difficult. It is difficult because I am doing things that I did not do in my professional life and are out of my comfort zone. The rewarding aspect is more complex. Being a part of the SAC has been one of my significant connections with the Bet Shalom community. My involvement has enabled me to work along with other congregants for social justice in the broader Twin Cities community. I feel supported by my understanding of Judaism which asks us to pursue justice and the midrash which points out that everyone no matter how complicated their task was needed in the building of the Temple.

I lead the Affordable Housing/Beacon SAC subcommittee. We bring awareness of our relationship with the Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative to the congregation and invite congregants to get involved with Beacon and other affordable housing advocacy actions.  I have been involved with Beacon for about seven years, advocating for affordable housing by emailing elected officials and participating in a group representing Beacon that meets with state legislators and county commissioners to build relationships with them so we can continue to ask for their support of affordable housing for low income citizens. Bet Shalom congregants have gathered at Edina, Plymouth, and Hopkins city council meetings in support of their voting to have Beacon build affordable housing in their cities. Edina now has 66 West, which is supportive housing for young adults; Plymouth has approved Cranberry Ridge for families; and the Hopkins City Council approved Vista 44 Development for families. Beacon has recently received funding for these latter two projects.

I am also involved with the Jewish Community Action (JCA) Affordable Housing Team in Saint Louis Park.  We have advocated increasing the percentage of affordable units that developers need to have to receive support from the city in building an apartment building; a 90 Day Tenant Protection ordinance;  repealing the Crime Free Drug Free Housing Ordinance, and the recently passed 7 day pre-eviction notice ordinance. We are St. Louis Park residents who are secular, involved with faith communities, or members of JCA. We collaborate with local nonprofit supportive agencies like STEP, ISAIAH, and HOME Line. In both the Beacon and the JCA affordable housing advocacy groups I have met many people from my neighborhood and across the metro area, developing a camaraderie in working toward social justice which is very gratifying and meaningful to me. I have experienced politics being done at a local level!

Since most of our current interactions are via Zoom, I miss having our usual social connections before and after meetings and services. I also currently miss safe-distance walks with friends as Lillian and I are spending the winter in Seattle enjoying meeting our first grandchild, 7-month-old Neel. Watching Neel keeps us busy at our Airbnb while Dave and Angeli are working from home. I continue to appreciate joining other congregants via Zoom for services, choir, volunteering with the Beacon/Social Action Committee, and Torah study/classes. 

Get involved!  For more information about the Bet Shalom Social Action Committee, contact Katey Powers at socialactionchair@betshalom.org.