Moody Hates Old People
Hope you don't mind me dropping a local story on everybody, but this one contains everything I love: evangelicals behaving selfishly, local government screwing up, buildings named after ridiculous people, and lots of old people put out on the streets.
Background: Moody Bible Institute has always had a hard time finding housing for its students because it is located smack dab in the middle of chicago. Instead of paying off the local farmers or tearing down houses on the grounds and building posh new dorms, they basically have no option but to buy older buildings around them and convert them into dorms. I first heard of this situation and the building that is the focus of this story on a campus visit in 1999 when I thought for sure Moody was my future....we can all only imagine what would have happened.
In 1994, MBI made a deal with the Housing Development Authority wherein Moody would pay off $6 million of mortage payments and became owners and opporators of a building near their campus that was currently home to a whole bunch of poor old people for whom the building had been set aside to provide affordable housing. As a part of the deal, the school would convert units into dorm rooms whenever they "became available," or as my tour guide on my Moody visit put it, they died off. Moody was not going to push anyone out and would slowly convert the building into a dorm, all the while the new tenants (eager evangelists and future pastors of all sorts of evangelical churches) no doubt attempted to convert the old tenants from whatever ideological persuasion they held at their old age (though none of the news coverage includes this, just imagine the conversations in the hall way or in the community showers!).
All in all, at this point the only real mistake you could pin on Moody at this point is that they went ahead and named the new dorm Jenkins Hall which, I am 98% certain, is named after Jerry Jenkins who's finest work is in the Orel Hershiser biography Out of the Blue, not those other books he wrote the last few years. While the agreement was reached under the Ryan administration (see any local Chicago news about the mess that this was) there is no indication that Moody offered kick backs or paid bribes for the building (though you never know...).
Recently, the Housing and Urban Development people realized that the building sold to Moody had an independent contract that ensured the building would remain low income housing for the elderly until the year 2018. Whoops. Mind you, this wasn't a contract with the previous owners, but a deal set in law that ensured that regardless of what happened to the building, until 2018 this building would be available for old, poor people.
Now we have an interesting issue brewing, no doubt headed to a court room. Hoping to settle on the lawsuit filed this week, Moody offered to allow the current make up of part old people part college students to remain unchanged, moving in new poor old people when those currently in the building "move on." Those representing the elderly have no interest in such a compromise as a permanent fix, offering to allow Moody until the end of the semester to get things straightened out. As Moody students move in, the lawsuit begins and Moody has already declared that if for some reason the courts decide to uphold what was already on the books (more than likely the outcome, from all I can tell), Moody would simply attempt to "opt out" and void the HUD agreement to make the building section 8 housing in 2008, something the HUD, who must grant such outs, has already said it would deny.
While I feel somewhat bad for Moody since they were told their plan was acceptable when they first aquired the building, their present attitude is not a great idea. For starters, it appears as though their primary objective is to secure as much room for their students as they can. Their compromise basically offers to have 50/50 housing until 2008 and then attempting to opt out of the agreement the building made with the government through 2018, then filling the whole building up with students. I guess what bothers me about the attitude of Moody in this is that they are the most active evangelical institution in the city. They require ministry, evangelism, and service of their students for the less fortunate in Chicago. While I know it makes absolutely no business sense for Moody to own a building filled with low income elderly folks, I don't believe doing good business is Moody's primary objective. Yet, all we hear in their statements regarding the issue is that they have got to find a place to put their students, no concern or regret for the elderly people looking for somewhere to live who can't afford it. There are plenty of forces in this city attempting to convert buildings that offer low income housing into high income condos and various other types of units. You wouldn't expect a Bible school to be one of them (even if they are only accidently breaking the law).
Perhaps they should simply try to void the original contract and get their 6 million bucks back. Or maybe they could honor the agreement through 2018 for at least half the building. What I suggest as the best solution involves the single greatest things about Moody: NO TUITION!! This brilliant idea gives me a brilliant idea: enroll the old people into MBI as full time students, tuition free, and arange for their housing bills to equal whatever the HUD housing was costing in the first place! It's a win-win: Moody gets to boast record bumps in enrollment and the people still have a place to live, not to mention the unique inter-generational housing opportunities Moody could offer.