In the 1970s members of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth were arrested for tearing down a dilapidated building in the city’s West End to call attention to the lack of affordable housing.
Some four decades later, the sisters are still working toward housing equity in that community.
The congregation announced June 18 a $2.5 million dollar gift to the Louisville Urban League’s “A Path Forward for Louisville” project. The Louisville Urban League’s mission is to help African Americans and those on the margins attain social and economic equality and stability through direct services and advocacy.
The gift will be used to renovate 50 vacant and abandoned homes into affordable rental units over the next three years.
The sisters presented Sadiqa Reynolds, president and CEO of the Louisville Urban League, with a $750,000 check during the press conference. That money will fund the renovation of 15 homes.
The remainder of the gift will be transferred after the first 15 houses are renovated, said Sister Adeline Fehribach, one of the vice presidents of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth.
Sister Fehribach said a lack of affordable housing has been an issue in the West End for a long time.
“Anyone who’s lived in Metro Louisville knows of the difficulties in the West End in terms of violence and lack of affordable housing. What people don’t know is why,” said Sister Fehribach during an interview June 21.
These challenges stem from “years of unjust policies and racist policies like redlining, where banks would not give loans to anyone inside the red line,” she said.
Redlining was practiced officially in Louisville from 1933 to 1951, removing access to home loans in Black, immigrant and low-income neighborhoods, according to the Louisville Metro Government Open Data website.
Reynolds of the Louisville Urban League said during the June 18 press conference that the SCN gift “is a direct response to the pain that our community is in and this is a big deal and we appreciate it and we challenge the city government, we challenge other corporations … we challenge every organization out there to step up and do what you can to match the work that these wonderful sisters have done.”
Reynolds noted that there’s a waiting list for affordable housing in the West End.
“Our commitment is to create that affordable housing with a pathway to Black ownership,” she said. But, for now, affordable rental homes are needed because, even before the pandemic, there were “many homeless children in our community and things have only gotten worse.”
While the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth wanted to do something about the situation in west Louisville, “We knew we didn’t have the answer,” said Sister Fehribach.
In discussions with the Louisville Urban League, the sisters heard from the Black community that housing is what they needed, she said.
“Hopefully it can decrease the violence as a snowball effect. You have to break the cycle of poverty somewhere and this is how we decided we can help out,” she said.
Sister Fehribach noted that the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth are not accustomed to making their good works public. They decided to make an exception this time to serve as a “witness” to others.
“Our hope is that other people, other organizations will step up to do something positive to effect positive changes in the West End,” she added.
The properties will be renovated by several development companies, such as Sponsor 4 Success and ReBOUND, Inc., among others, according to a press release from the Louisville Urban League.
The renovations will also stay true to part of the SCN’s mission statement about caring for the Earth, said Sister Fehribach.
The houses will be insulated, use energy-efficient doors and windows and have Energy Star appliances to decrease energy consumption and keep the cost of utilities down.
These features, the sisters hope, will contribute to the renters’ success in paying for utilities and reduce the environmental impact, said Sister Fehribach.