Wednesday, June 26, 2019

My Housing Story

What’s your housing story? How did your parents afford a home or an apartment when you were growing up? How do you afford a home or apartment today? How has your housing situation influenced your life? These are some of the questions that we explore in Jill’s Housing Justice Institute and in our monthly GPHAG meetings. We learn a lot about each other, and how housing influences our lives, when we reflect on our housing stories.

I’ve done this exercise numerous times and each time I learn a little more about myself and about housing policy in America. This blog is about what I shared during the most recent GPAHG meeting.

If you want to see a video of the last GPAGH meeting in which Jill and Bert Newton discussed the "Theology of Land and Housing," you can see a livestream of this event at:

I grew up in Princeton, an elite college town, but the neighborhood where I grew up did not fit the Princeton stereotype. Instead of college professors and professionals, my neighborhood was filled with working class immigrants, mainly Greeks and Italians. Our street was short and narrow, with gasoline stations and diners on the corner, and had the nickname Pig Turd Alley. But it was actually a great street on which to raise a family since homes were side-by-side and had almost no front yards. Instead, there were porches or “stoops” where families hung out, especially on hot summer nights. Mothers all knew each other and took turns watching each other’s kids. It felt as if the whole neighborhood was an extended family. For the first 8 years of my life, we lived in an apartment and then moved across the street to a fixer upper that cost around $13,000. That was a lot of money back then since the average income was $3,600.  (Per year, not per month!)

How could we compare that price to today’s home prices? A good rule of thumb is that you can afford to buy a home that costs no more than five times your yearly salary. If my father’s yearly salary was, say, $3,000, he could afford a $15,000 home. So this fixer up was within his price range.

What is the median home price in Princeton today? I checked ZIlllo and it’s (gulp!) $900,000. To afford to buy a home in Princeton today, you’d have to earn at least $180,000 a year. The average janitor’s salary in the Princeton area is $36,000, so no janitor could even imagine buying a home in Princeton today. In fact, neither could a high school teacher, since their salaries range from $50,000 -90,000. Princeton University professors can still afford homes in Princeton since their salaries average around $200,000.

Another reason my immigrant father was able to afford a home in elite Princeton was due to the Veterans Home Loan Program, which was created in 1943. My Greek father served in the army during WWII, which is how he earned his citizenship, and he was therefore eligible for this program. Rather than provide veterans with a cash bonus to help with purchasing a home, the government decided a loan guaranty was a more powerful and viable long-term solution. And it worked. Being a vet enabled my father to obtain a 30-year mortgage and home in which to raise his family. But the expenses of having a home required that we rent rooms for extra income. Our house had five small bedrooms and two of them were converted to studios and rented out. That’s what made our home affordable.

Our neighborhood began to change in the 1960s when a Princeton University history professor named John Shy moved in next door. He was a nice guy and my father loved to talk with him about his favorite topic, history. (He also took me under his wing and gave me a job helping him with research when I was a freshman in high school, but that's another story.) 

Having a professor on Pig Turd Alley changed the character of our neighborhood. Once the first professor dared to move in, others followed. And soon our little street was no longer affordable to anyone making less than a Princeton professor’s salary, i.e. $200,000 a year. We didn't have a term for this back then. Today we call it "gentrification."

I became a home owner myself when I was in my late 40s. I was married to a Methodist pastor and we lived in parsonages for the first 10 years of our marriage. But when we moved to Whittier, I convinced my wife we needed to own a home to gain equity for our retirement. So we bought a condo around the same time that Jill bought her house in Pasadena. Our condo cost $150,000 and we could afford the down payment only because my father-in-law gave us $15,000. We also rented out two rooms for foreign students for around $1200 a month total. That paid for our mortgage and taxes and helped make our condo affordable. We bought and sold our condo at the right time and made a profit. With equity from our condo, we purchased a detached home in Torrance for $450,000 and sold six years later for $650,000—a month or two before the housing market crashed, when prices were at their peak. That’s why I was able to retire at age 60 and devote myself to peace and justice activism. 

What helped my family afford a home was a government program that enabled us to buy a home that could be used to generate income as well as raise a family.

What helped me to purchase our first condo was having a wife whose father could help us financially, and renting out rooms helped us to gain equity to purchase a detached home. Now I live with Jill and am able to use some of that equity to maintain and improve our home as well as make it a model of environmental sustainability. I feel very blessed to be a homeowner and would like everyone to have a decent, secure and affordable home. That’s why I work for housing justice.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Latest news on affordable housing available through

My wife and I have another blog that's devoted to affordable housing and I have been posting on it recently. It's called (not to be confused with our website, Here are a few recent postings that offer solutions for the growing housing crisis in our nation:

It’s exciting and encouraging to see that the Democratic candidates are taking seriously our nation’s housing crisis and offering solutions such as these:
  • Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren calls for a $500 billion federal investment over the next 10 years in new affordable housing. She says her plan would create 3 million new units and lower rents by 10%. Warren would also give grants to first-time homebuyers who live in areas where black families were once excluded from getting home loans. “Everybody who lives or lived in a formerly red-lined district can get some housing assistance now to be able to buy a home,” Warren told attendees at the She the People Presidential Forum in Houston this spring.
  • New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker would provide financial incentives to encourage local governments to get rid of zoning laws that limit the construction of affordable housing. He would also provide a renters’ tax credit, legal assistance for tenants facing eviction and protect against housing discrimination, something he’s made part of his personal appeal. “When I was a baby, my parents tried to move us into a neighborhood with great public schools, but realtors wouldn’t sell us a home because of the color of our skin,” Booker recounts in an online campaign video.
  • Sen. Kamala Harris has also introduced a plan for a renters’ tax credit of up to $6,000 for families making $100,000 or less.
  • New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has signed on to both the Harris and Warren plans, which have been introduced as legislation.

As this LA Times editorial makes clear, in order to address our state’s housing crisis, cities need to zone for enough housing to meet the needs of all its residents, not just high end and single-family residents. Unfortunately, the California Assn. of Governments isn’t helping. 
Southern California is mired in a housing affordability and homelessness crisis that is undermining the region’s quality of life and threatening its economic prosperity. But local elected leaders apparently haven’t gotten the memo or simply don’t care.
How else to explain a recent vote by the board of the Southern California Assn. of Governments, which is composed of city and county elected officials from across the region, that vastly underestimates the number of homes needed to ease the existing shortage and to house the next generation of Californians.

“Investors” are grabbing homes and making it increasingly difficult for home buyers to find an affordable home. Another example of how the “free market” is exacerbating our nation’s housing crisis. Has the time come for the government to start building affordable homes, as it did in the 1970s? 
A confluence of factors — rising construction costs, restrictive zoning rules and shifting consumer preferences, among others — has already led to a scarcity of affordably priced housing in many big cities. Investors, fueled by Wall Street capital, are snapping up much of what remains.
“If it weren’t bad enough out there for first-time home buyers, the additional competition from investors is increasingly pushing starter homes out of the reach of many households,” said Ralph McLaughlin, deputy chief economist at CoreLogic, a provider of real estate data.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Diplomacy Not War with Iran

As the Trump administration sends mixed signals about going to war with Iran, here are statements on Iran by leading Quaker organizations such as FCNL and AFSC
along with a statement that I helped to craft for ICUJP. 

Please contact your  elected officials and tell them you oppose war against Iran. Here's a link that makes it easy:


Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace
Urge Congress and the President to Resolve Conflicts through Negotiations, not War

Dear Members of Congress:

As an interfaith organization founded in Los Angeles in response to the events of 9/11 with the mission “Religious Communities Must Stop Blessing War and Violence,” we are convinced that  a just and lasting peace can be achieved only by good will and diplomacy. We must do our utmost to prevent an unnecessary and potentially disastrous war against Iran. We are therefore grateful that our California Senators Harris and Feinstein are co-sponsors of S.1039 - Prevention of Unconstitutional War with Iran Act of 2019.
In light of this imminent crisis, we are also urging Congress to approve two important amendments to military spending bills: 1)  the bipartisan amendment to the Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to prohibit funds from being used for military operations against Iran without explicit authorization from Congress [1], and 2) the amendment already passed by the House repealing the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), passed after 9/11 and used by Presidents to justify wars in over 19 countries.
The way of war and violence since 9/11 has proven an utter failure, especially in the Middle East. Since 9/11, the US has spent nearly 5 trillion dollars on regional wars, which have resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths, an upsurge in violence and terrorism, and the largest refugee crisis since WW II.[2]The only way to achieve a stable peace is through international agreements and negotiations, as evidenced by the Iran Accord, which was signed in 2015 by United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, France, China, Germany and the European Union. This accord convinced Iran to suspend its nuclear program. But even though Iran has abided by the terms of this agreement, the US pulled out and imposed punitive sanctions on Iran, much to the dismay of other signatories and the detriment of the people of Iran.  The decision by the US to choose the way of violence and threats instead of negotiations and treaties has destabilized the Middle East and exacerbated the current conflict with Iran.
We are poised on the brink of another Middle East war, directed by the same people who misled us into war with Iraq.[3] Therefore, we urge Congress to immediately reclaim its authority under Article 1, Section 8, of the Constitution: “Congress [not the President] shall have power…to declare war.”
Congress needs to make it clear that no President may initiate a military intervention in Iran or anywhere else without Congressional approval. War is not the answer.

    [1] This bill is being sponsored by Senators Tom Udall (D-NM),Tim Kaine (D-VA),  Dick Durbin (D-IL), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Chris Murphy (D-CT), and Rand Paul (R-KY).

Here's a statement by the American Friends Service Committee on what you need to know and how can you call for lasting peace. 

1. U.S. aggression toward Iran is reaching a fever pitch. 

On Thursday, President Trump ordered strikes on Iran, only calling them off at the last minute. That morning, Iran had shot down an unmanned surveillance drone it says crossed into Iranian airspace. 
U.S. leadership continues to push us toward strikes against Iran. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo has been heard using the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) to justify potential U.S. military action against Iran, and Sen. Tom Cotton called for immediate retaliatory attacks. National Security Advisor John Bolton has a long history of calling for preemptive strikes against aspiring nuclear powers. 

2. These recent developments are just the latest in a long line of provocations between Iran and the U.S. 

Last week, the United States accused Iran of using naval mines to attack two tankers near the Strait of Hormuz.  Iran then announced it would increase uranium enrichment – a reaction to sanctions reinstated after the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal. What’s happening now follows a long line of provocations, including the incorporation of Iranians in the Trump administration’s Muslim ban and economic sanctions imposed by each nation on the other.  Tensions reach back to the US CIA’s involvement in the 1953 coup that deposed Iran’s democratically elected leader to establish a dictatorship friendlier to U.S. and U.K. oil interests.     

3. The calls for war with Iran echo the misguided calls for war with Iraq. 

The accusations of Iranian guilt in the tanker mining incident are based on the intelligence community’s assessment of limited evidence – an assessment that a Japanese official called “speculation.” In addition, military action against Iran would likely be based on the AUMF and shaky claims that Iran has collaborated with al Qaeda. If there is one thing we learned from U.S. military intervention in Iraq, it’s that war does not make people safer and only further entrenches and expands conflicts.

4. The military-industrial-complex has already benefited from the rhetoric.

The Trump administration used tensions with Iran to justify circumventing the congressional approval process for an $8 billion dollar arms sale to Saudi Arabia. 

5.  War with Iran – or any country – is never the answer.

AFSC stands against any military action against Iran. We reject the idea that national security is a zero-sum game and seek a model of security that recognizes the interconnectedness of all people. 
FCNL statement:
 June 20, 2019 Americans for Peace Now, Arms Control Association, Council for a Livable World, Foreign Policy for America, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Indivisible, J Street, MoveOn, NIAC Action, Ploughshares Fund, VoteVets and Win Without War issued the following statement:
 As pro-diplomacy organizations that oppose unauthorized war with Iran, we call on Senators to support the bipartisan Udall amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act and insist that it be put to a vote.
 Having violated and abandoned the agreement restraining Iran's nuclear activities and engaged in a series of escalations with Iran, the Trump Administration is now poised to subvert Congress' constitutional prerogative to decide when the United States will and will not go to war. While Iranian misbehavior has increased in recent weeks, the Trump Administration's provocations and saber rattling have made conflict, not negotiations, more likely. 
The question of whether American forces should be put in harm's way to strike a country nearly four times the size of Iraq and with more than twice the population is one of the utmost gravity. It must not - and constitutionally cannot - be left to any administration alone, especially one that has acted with gross recklessness and profoundly weakened key alliances and multilateral partnerships essential to addressing threats from Iran. Any unilateral escalation risks both further alienation and getting mired in another disastrous war in the Middle East. 
We therefore urge Senators to support and further insist that the bipartisan Udall amendment - which would prohibit appropriated funds from being used for military action against Iran without explicit authorization from Congress - receive a vote in the Senate's present consideration of the National Defense Authorization Act. 
The Trump Administration's current Iran policy has proven a disaster. Launching an unnecessary and unauthorized war would do a disservice to our troops and all Americans. If the Senate fails to consider the Udall amendment while legislating on defense authorization, at the very moment the administration is barreling toward an unauthorized and costly war of choice, it would be an historic abdication of constitutional responsibility.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

A Time to Break Silence: Reflections on Pacific Yearly Meeting and Minutes of Concern

A Time to Break Silence
“It may well be that we will have to repent in this generation. Not merely for the vitriolic words and the violent actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around and say, "Wait on time.” Dr. King
"In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." –Dr King

“There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” –Dr. King
These words of Dr. King speak to my condition as I reflect on the moral depravity of the Trump regime and its attacks on immigrants, the poor, and the environment. How can anyone keep from speaking out during this era where laws and norms of common decency are violated daily, and where our fragile democracy is at risk?

I have been a Quaker for 35 years and I value the contemplative silence of our worship.  Our practice is not simply mystical, but also prophetic. Quakers wait together in silence and listen for divine guidance.  In the silence we often hear the “still, small voice” that leads us to speak out against injustice and to take faithful action, like the prophet Elijah (1 Kings 19).

When I came to Pacific Yearly Meeting in 1989, I was impressed by our faithful public witness. We met in August and held vigils during Hiroshima Day, calling for an end to nuclear weapons. We went to the nuclear test site in Nevada to protest and some of us were arrested. Others went to the Soviet Union to build bridges of understanding that helped bring about a peaceful end to the Cold War. We approved minutes of concern that testified to our commitment to social justice and peace. I felt grateful to be part of a religious community that walked its talk. Over the years, I have served the YM as the editor of Friends Bulletin, coordinator of SCQM’s youth program, clerk and member of the Peace and Social Order Committee for over a dozen years, and coordinator of the Transformative Friends program.

Over the past decade I have seen the prophetic fire of our YM grow dim and our public statements on peace and justice become increasingly feeble.[1] For the past three years Pacific Yearly Meeting has not made any public statement about justice and peace. For me, this is a grievous loss.

Three and a half years ago Ministry and Oversight sent out a letter to the clerks of activist committees like Peace and Social Order stating that minutes of concern are pointless because they do not bring about any change. We were instructed not to bring forward minutes of concern until a new procedure was agreed upon.[2] For three years, we have not had a procedure and have not spoken out. But silence is also a statement, and at times a damning one. There is an old Latin adage:  Qui tacet consentire videtur, ubi loqui debuit ac potuit. “He who is silent seems to consent, when he should and could have spoken.” Dr. King would have agreed with this adage since he knew all too well how many church folk kept silent during the Civil Rights era, much as Pacific Yearly Meeting is doing during the Trump era. Bonhoeffer would also have agreed that silence was betrayal when church goers kept silent in the face of Nazism.

I have been told that Quaker process is slow, and that I should be patient, let go of this concern and let committees handle it in their Quaker time. But three years have gone by and the matter has still not come before a Plenary for worshipful discernment. Last year five of us spoke about minutes of concern during a Plenary session, but there was no follow up during the Plenary, no opportunity for Friends to respond. The five of us never even met afterwards to debrief or to dialogue. We simply presented our views and went our separate ways, and the Plenary continued as if nothing had happened.[3] My understanding of Quaker process is that Friends with different viewpoints meet in person in a spirit of worship and seek Divine guidance. This hasn’t happened yet, as far as I can tell. At least, I have not been invited to be part of such worshipful discernment. We seem to be avoiding this topic rather than seeking Divine wisdom and guidance. In the words of Dr. King, we are sitting around and saying, “Wait on time.”  I ask myself: what would John Woolman or George Fox do under such circumstances? Or would they have been (like FCNL) “persistent, passionate and prophetic”?

I am grateful that I belong to a Meeting which doesn’t keep silent when it comes to social justice and peace. We have approved minutes of concern on immigration reform, climate change, “Ending Endless War,” and housing justice. And these minutes have given support and encouragements to members of our Meeting who feel called to work for justice and peace. I wish that Pacific Yearly Meeting would give similar support and encouragement to those of us who are trying to put our Quaker faith into practice, but that isn’t happening.

I know that most Friends in Pacific Yearly Meeting care deeply about justice and peace, and many are taking action. During my final report as clerk of Peace and Social Order, I asked Friends to stand if they had attended a demonstration in the past year. Almost everyone stood up. I asked how many had written letters to elected officials or gone on a lobby visit. More than half stood up. I asked how many had been arrested or been war tax resisters. At least a couple of dozen people stood up. I was moved almost to tears by how committed Friends are individually to peace and justice. I cannot understand why collectively Pacific Yearly Meeting Friends remain silent.

For the past couple of years even our epistles were silent about our peace and justice concerns until last year until I took the initiative and sent some text to the Epistle Committee describing the important work that the Latin American Concerns committee is doing around immigration issues. I’m pleased that last year’s epistle included this text. If we cannot come to unity about minutes of concern, I hope that our epistle will reflect our peace and social justice concerns.

Since I no longer serve on any committees of PYM, all I can do is speak the truth I have been given, and pray that Pacific Yearly Meeting will once again speak out boldly and prophetically. To me, this is what it means to be an authentic Quaker.

[1] In 2013 I compared PYM’s minutes of concern during the Vietnam Era with those approved in the aftermath of 9/11. I also compared PYM minutes with those of other Yearly Meetings. The results show quite clearly that PYM’s statements on social justice and peace have become increasingly weak. Sadly, things have grown worse since 2013.
[2] I have become concerned that the Ministry and Oversight has become, in effect, the executive committee of Pacific Yearly Meeting, telling other committees what the can or cannot do. This is not my understanding of Quaker polity. See

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Making Housing and Community Happen: A Celebration of Our New Housing Justice Venture

This slide show was shown at our MHCH Launch Party in October. Since then, we've raised over $24,000, hired an office assistant, and had significant wins, including convincing the Pasadena City Council to approve 69 units of permanent supportive housing at Heritage Square South.