Rochester church works to convert a college into an affordable housing campus
Bear Creek Christian Church's concern for housing started seven years ago when they cleaned and repaired trailer homes in Rochester's southeast side. Beginning at Oak Terrace Mobile Home Park, the church removed 15 garbage dumpsters and noticed an "elevation in the pride of the community,” said Pastor Aaron Wager of Bear Creek Christian Church.
Once they stepped off their ladders and took off their gloves, Bear Creek engaged themselves into the mobile home communities, hosting a yearly summer get-together to reinforce positive relationships between local police, firefighters and members of the neighborhood.
While building relationships with the community, Pastor Wager mentioned they met one family, a single mother with nine kids living all in one trailer.
“Their trailer had burned down, but with the help of other churches and nonprofits, we raised enough money for them to buy a house,” he said.
With their involvement in serving the city's trailer park communities, Bear Creek Christian Church witnessed first-hand the connection between living conditions and its impact on one's well-being — and how the need to address these points continued growing.
Finding a home
As a student of Crossroads College himself, Pastor Wager — with the support of his associate pastor, Jeff Urban, staff and congregation — considered the 37-acre site an ideal space for affordable housing options and services to assist those needing housing.
“If we could get other nonprofits out here to lease that space,” Wager recalled thinking, “and those nonprofits would be supportive of the people living out here ... we could do this.”
The church purchased the campus this summer for close to $4 million, and now plans to serve a variety of individuals and families through mixed housing. In its current state, the campus serves a diverse group of individuals, including immigrant families, couples seeking more reasonable housing and people transitioning from recovery services.
Bear Creek's goal is to create a welcoming community for these individuals and families by providing them a safe environment, with services and support they may need. As with their services projects in trailer communities, Bear Creek will continue integrating themselves and engaging with the community living on the campus.
Pastor Wager recounted a couple recent examples of reaching out to community members: “I’ll throw a football with the kids up here, or there was someone who was struggling and I’m able to sit down with that person and say, ‘hey what can we do to help you?’”
“That’s the kind of environment we’re trying to create,” he told me. “We want to get to know people’s stories and needs, come in and help.”
An unforeseen challenge
Due to changes in property taxes, as a result of the campus location no longer offering college classes, Bear Creek Christian Church faces a financial challenge against what their business plan envisioned for property taxes and what they currently are owing.
Between changing ownership from Crossroads College to Bear Creek, Crossroads location lost their property tax exempt status. Due to this, property taxes on the property doubled from an expected $5,000/month to $10,000/month. Bear Creek has applied for tax relief for 2019, and received exemption for some of its campus buildings.
Although Bear Creek faces an unexpected financial challenge, Jeff Urban, another pastor of Bear Creek Christian Church, said he does not expect the mission of the campus to be compromised.
“Our vision is still to offer truly affordable housing for people in need in our community, as well as affordable space for area nonprofits,” said Urban.
Christian Nisbit is a 2018 creative writing graduate of Columbia College Chicago and a current nursing student at Rochester Community and Technical College. His storytelling passions involve active reading and writing, theatrical performance, and open mic readings.