In March a group of young Lutherans took time out of their spring break to visit their representatives in Washington, D.C. “Meeting with people in the offices of our elected officials put a personal face to government and made the possibility of change feel more accessible,” said Kamila Gutierrez, a member of Lutheran Campus Ministry of Greater Milwaukee.

The student group, based at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee (UWM), pursues a vision for change shaped by both personal and community experiences with lack of affordable housing. On the first of their two days with ELCA advocacy staff in the nation’s capital, they channeled their convictions into policy opportunities being considered at the federal level.

Alex Parker, ELCA advocacy coordinator, and Will Milner, ELCA Hunger Advocacy Fellow, met with the group in the ELCA Washington, D.C. “Alex and Will helped the group explore current bills we could speak to on this [housing] issue, set up meetings with our Senate and House staffers, and empowered us to know how to use our voices in those meetings through comprehensive training,” said Rachel Young Binter, pastor of the Corner House, the Lutheran campus ministry of UWM.

Together the group focused on three policies in discussion that could have significant impact: The Yes in God’s Back Yard Act would provide grants to state and local governments to reduce regulatory barriers for churches, places of worship and institutions of higher education interested in building new affordable housing units. The Eviction Crisis Act would create an emergency assistance fund aimed at deterring evictions, which would further prevent economic instability and prolonged, expensive housing assistance. And the Choice in Affordable Housing Act would make affordable housing vouchers more incentivized and accessible to landlords, increasing housing access to those using assistance.

“Advocacy with the church is God’s people doing God’s work.”

In Capitol Hill meetings on the second day of the trip, the campus ministry delegation shared its concerns and values related to the bills with the offices of Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn.; Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis.; Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis.; Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wis.; and Rep. Scott Fitzgerald, R-Wis. “I did not expect to be able to speak from a perspective of faith, have representatives listen to us and even follow up!” said UWM student Thomas Trelstad.

UWM student Kate Pesavento was affected by her first-person encounter with the legislative process and the people who move it forward. “It was grounding to participate in our democracy and realize the work that thousands of people, whose efforts rarely get acknowledged, are putting in every day,” Pesavento said. “Coming back from this experience, I have a strong desire to continue working to make my community a better place and support those who are the most vulnerable within it.”

“It is empowering to speak about how affordable housing impacts the lives of God’s people and see how voices of faith can be raised to affect the outcomes of public policy,” said UWM student Marissa Knopick. Her classmate Jacob Mansfield added, “Advocacy with the church is God’s people doing God’s work. We are all one people trying to make the world a better place for all.”

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