For years, the Catholic Church has worked on immigrant rights, but nowadays in San Francisco, housing has moved to the top of the church’s social justice agenda.

To that end it is organizing prayer vigils, developing surveys and forming alliances with some of the political groups that have already done extensive ground work such as Causa Justa and the Plaza 16 Coalition.

“People who have the power like city councils, attorneys and representatives should hear us and fix something in this failed economic system that creates great, great wealth and also great, great poverty,” said Father Spieler from St. Ignatius Parish at the University of San Francisco.

Government officials, he said, have to put a brake on development that is leaving Latinos and other poor tenants on the outside. “Getting people to think about this and be aware of it can drive into political action,” he said earlier.

Olinda Orellana, a member of the Archdiocese of San Francisco’s Department of Public Policy, said that four months ago they began discussing the housing crisis and its impact on the poor.

“We saw as Latinos, that we are the first displaced and that implies abandoning not just our schools and houses, but our church and community,” she said. “We get together to stop evictions, but also to demand construction of affordable housing.”

Orellana said there is a direct connection between immigration and housing as landlords have long kept tenants in check by threatening to report tenants to immigration authorities.

“Even the undocumented families have rights on their houses, we are supporting them, asking them to not leave out of fear and intimidation,” said Orellana.

At the prayer vigil last week in the Mission, the focus was on a housing moratorium – a strategyproposed by District Supervisor David Campos.

“They are displacing us, little by little, they are evicting us,” said Father Jose Corral, a priest from parish St. James, who lead the Thursday prayer march of dozens of Latinos through the heart of the Mission District. The vigils, he said, are meant to “begin a protest force to stop” the evictions.

“The city should hear us and defend us,” he said adding that only tech workers can pay the current rents.

“This is the voice of Hispanic Catholics,” added Corral at the end of a big gathering in front of St. Peter’s Catholic Church on 24th and Alabama.

Photo by Jenny Enrique

Photo by Jenny Enrique

The crowd of Latinos walked on 24th street singing, praying and inviting strangers to join them in an effort to bring awareness to the housing situation. “We need a luxury moratorium.” and “Aquí estamos y no nos vamos” or “Here we are, and we are not leaving,” they chanted as they walked through the Mission.

Orellana said such vigils will take place monthly in different Mission parishes including St. Peter’s, St. Charles, St. Anthony’s, St. James, St. Kevins, The Corpus Christi and St. Paul’s.

Some 13 churches across the city are part of the initiative that will extend to the Congreso Carismático Católico Hispano (the Hispanic Catholic Charismatic conference) on June 6th and 7th in the Cañada College in Redwood city.

The San Francisco Organizing Project/Peninsula Interfaith Action (SFOP/PIA), that also backs the church’s effort, said that there are more than 500 units approved for construction, but 93% are market rate units.

Since the construction of the Mosaica Apartments at Florida & Alabama Street in 2009, there haven’t been projects for low-income families, the interfaith group said.

“The parishes are going to have information about tenant’s rights and we are also planning some workshops for Latino families,” said Luis Morales, from the Archdiocese’s pastoral social justice group. “We plan to have a hotline to address these issues soon.”

The group is also planning to survey the Latino population to get more accurate data on how many Latino families have been affected by Mission’s housing crisis in the Mission.

“We are doing a big pray in front of the City Hall on June 2nd (when the Moratorium is voted on) to show in a peaceful way that the Church is always on the side of those most needy. There are families living in basements, with no heat or hot water. The Church is always ready to give refuge to those families, but first we need to fight for our rights,” Morales said.

Photo by Jenny Enrique

Photo by Jenny Enrique