Wednesday, February 17, 2010

On Housing...

This story broke yesterday.  In order to avoid a housing bubble and people getting mortgages they can not afford (especially should interest rates go up) the rules have changed.  Interestingly they did not raise the minimum down payment from 5% to 10% (on new purchases--they did for a 2nd mortgage) or decrease the maximum term from 35 years.  ISTM that both of those would be better tools to help ensure people don't over-extend themselves.  OTOH, I like the rules around people buying investment properties -- that will help keep prices more reasonable (well that ship has sailed, keep them from getting less reasonable).

I also note that there are some strange comments being made on the story (hardly unusual I know).  SOme don't seem to understand what the rule changes are.  SOme seem convinced that this is only to help the rich and the banks.  ANd some are operating under some strange assumption that home ownership is a right and so anything that may make it more difficult to purchase a home infringes on that right.  Home ownership or property ownership is NOT a right.  Nor should it be.  Adequate housing is a basic right (one which is notable for being denied to many) but not ownership.

AS I was listening to the story in the car I reflected on the reality that is clergy housing.  In the past most clergy lived in a manse/rectory owned by the church.  In the UCCan, however, this is no longer true.  Now many live in housing they rent or own and are paid a housing allowance.  In some ways this is a gift -- if one is in a position to purchase a house.   But the standards are that the allowance is to cover the fair rental value of a manse-equivalent in the community (and the only defining standards of manse are that is includes heavy appliances and window coverings -- while the general assumption is 3-bedroom bungalow this is never actually stated ).  Of course this means that if your mortgage payment is less than fair rental value you are covered, with money for taxes too.  But for those of us with no equity to start off, a housing allowance versus manse can mean that a place is not open for us -- we simply can't afford to live here.

OTOH, manses come with their own issues at times.  I have heard too many stories about places which think of the manse as "the church's house" and so forget that it is someone's residence.  THere are stories of trustees or property folks from the church letting themselves into the house unannounced.  One person I know came back from a week away to find that not only had a church group held a meeting in her kitchen, they had left the dirty coffee cups behind.  At the same time, there is the potential that the clergy family can do damage to the house and not be held to account.

In my opinion, there is a solution to this.  Start treating manses as something more like rental properties.  When a new person comes to live there change the locks and have strict control over who has a key (the family and one person from the church [property chair]).  In the current reality of church life there is often an interim period where the manse is vacant and keys get made for a variety of people to check on the house -- a requirement for insurance purposes.  I know when I arrived here this was done because "we don't know who all has keys" was how the Chair put it.

At the same time it seems there would be value in having the clergy person put down a damage deposit, and be made to take responsibility for unwarranted wear and tear, not to mention some expectation that when the clergyperson moves on he/she will take responsibility to do or pay for a thourough cleaning -- again, just as in a rental situation.  This would require that the church set the deposit money aside to not be touched so it can be refunded should there not be unwarranted wear and tear on the house.

Some will say that the damage deposit idea is unworkable.  But the change the locks idea most certainly is.  and I think that with some innovative thinking the deposit would too.  Maybe the Presbytery would have to be the holder of the money....??


  1. Step One - PAY an appropriate wage to clergy that is reflective of their education, experience and ability ... the wage scale in the United Church is and has been for decades A JOKE.

    This is an HR issue more than a housing issue Gord - treat clergy with respect and with a level of care and compassion and many of the problems you've cited will vanish. There is unfortunately NO FORTITUDE on the part of the Greater Church (which is US) to deal with these issues - we continue to approach issues like wages, housing and incidents like you've cited with a "nudge nudge, wink wink, say no more, say no more" approach that would embarass even the most Monty Pythonesque among us ...

    It requires - nay, it DEMANDS that we treat our Clergy as PEOPLE not disposable lives that are conveniently replacable. The treatment of Clergy has been historically deplorable - that's why we have mileage and housing allowances to begin with, because a few brave voices stepped up and said - "ENOUGH" (I met one of them - he told a Property Chair off and quit ministry permenantly because of the sub-standard housing he was EXPECTED to live in ...) We need a few courageous voices to stand up for our Clergy and stop this ...

    Step Two - sell all the manses and pay an APPROPRIATE renumeration to clergy. Maybe some small congregations will suddenly realize their dreamland bubble has popped and we can get on with being Church again ...

    Step Three - NEW LEADERSHIP across the board to break free of the boxes that limit and constrain us as a Church ... I've long said placing terms on the length of service you can have in Church courts would do wonders ... find some Martin Marty - he's worth reading!

  2. We are in a house by choice--no manse, period. The manse system is a feudal remnant.

  3. I disagree with get rid of all manses. In some of our communities they remain vital. When I was settled I would not have been able to purchase. There is a lack of good rental housing in town. And then, if you did purchase, you run the risk of not being able to sell. In smaller communities it is often to the advantage of the ministry personnel to have a manse.

    Mind you, at the same time, I firmly believe it is time to give serious consideration to a Unified Salary instead of housing and study allowances separated from salary. ANd then the clergy person can work out the tax stuff as long as Revenue Canada, sorry CCRA, allows clergy to deduct housing costs from income.

  4. I hear what you're saying Gord, but honestly, the ONLY request my partner had when I entered theological study was that he NEVER be made to live in a manse again. He grew up in them and despises them. I agree.

    I also agree with Shawn with regard to clergy remuneration. We are expected to train for seven years like any other professional (dentists, lawyers, accountants, general name but a few) and yet......when I began my settlement charge at Cat A - our Office Admin pointed out to me that I was only making a few dollars more per hour than a Wal Mart greeter.

    I thought she was kidding.

    She wasn't.

    If I had kept my job at the hospital lab, I would be making at least three times my present salary - and I'm at Cat F. That speaks VOLUMES about how much the church respects, or rather does not respect, its professional clergy.

    No, we didn't get into this schtick to make money, but is it too much to ask that a person who works as hard as every clergy person I know works, should make an appropriate wage to reflect that work?

    I don't think so.