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John Edwards, Jack Kemp, Habitat's Jonathan Reckford to appear in NCC TV documentary on affordable housing, Dec. 10 on NBC stations

“Building on Faith: Making Poverty Housing History,” a new documentary tackling the issue of affordable housing, will be offered to television stations affiliated with NBC-TV beginning Dec. 10. Download the Study Guide

The hour-long program, presented by the National Council of Churches USA, includes interviews with the CEO of Habitat for Humanity International, Jonathan Reckford, and with former vice-presidential candidates John Edwards and Jack Kemp. Edwards also served as a U.S. senator from North Carolina and Kemp as U.S. secretary of Housing and Urban Development and as a U.S. congressman from New York.

The program, narrated by Linda Ellerbee, award-winning broadcast journalist and television producer, will look at how providing a safe and secure home is a basic necessity for building a just and functional society.

Religious leaders appearing in the documentary include:-former U.S. Congressman (Pa.) Bob Edgar, general secretary of National Council of Churches (NCC); Jim Wallis, Sojourners/Call to Renewal; United Methodist Bishop Melvin Talbert; Mark J. Pelavin, associate director of Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; Sayyid M Syeed, national interfaith director of the Islamic Society of North America; Brenda Girton-Mitchell, associate general secretary for justice and advocacy of NCC; Sharon Watkins, general minister and president, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ); and Brad Hewitt, senior vice president of fraternal operations for Thrivent Financial for Lutherans.

Sources interviewed for the documentary say that one-third of Americans now spend at least 30 percent of their income on housing, which is officially “unaffordable” according to U.S. federal guidelines. Moreover, “in 1970 we had a small surplus of affordable rental units for the people in the lowest income levels, but now we’re 5 million units down,” says Sheila Crowley, head of the National Low Income Housing Coalition in Washington, D.C. “There is not a single place in the whole country if you’re a full-time, minimum-wage worker, where you can afford the rent on a one-bedroom rental unit.”

“The Affordability Index measures the percentage of homes sold in a metropolitan area that were affordable to a median-income family. Well, that index has fallen to historic lows. So, increasingly, it’s not only the very low-income families who struggle to afford housing, but individuals such as teachers, nurses and firefighters are confronting affordability issues, as well,” says Habitat CEO Reckford.

The documentary not only highlights the problems, but looks at existing programs that empower individuals to find solutions, examining how businesses, faith groups and nonprofits can work in partnership with government programs to eliminate substandard housing.

“God calls us to do that. You can’t read the Scriptures without knowing that God cares about the poor,” says NCC’s Bob Edgar. The program will feature groups like Habitat for Humanity, Call to Renewal, and the National Council of Churches’ multi-denominational emphasis to address poverty.

“Ending poverty housing is certainly possible, it’s just a matter of will,” says Sojourners’ Jim Wallis.

Yolanda Suarez, Los Angeles, Ellen Giles, Washington, D.C., and Carol Murphy, Alexandria, Va., among numerous others, also contribute their personal and family stories of dealing with housing woes.

Leading experts on affordable housing to be featured include David Smith of the Affordable Housing Institute and Recap Advisors, Boston; Nicolas P. Retsinas of the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University and chair of Habitat for Humanity International’s board of directors; Moises Loza, Housing Assistance Council; and David Lereah, chief economist, National Association of Realtors.

Mennonite Media is producing the program for the NCC as part of the Interfaith Broadcasting Commission’s partnership with NBC-TV. The program will be available to all NBC-affiliated stations, for airing in local markets at times and dates of their choosing, beginning Dec. 10.