New Hampshire church partnerships to support affordable housing, violence prevention, child care services

By Shireen Korkzan
Posted Apr 11, 2024

[Episcopal News Service] Christ Episcopal Church in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, is partnering with three local nonprofit organizations that address access to affordable housing, domestic and sexual assault violence, and affordable child care access.

To support these partners — the Portsmouth Housing Authority, HAVEN and Little Blessings Child Care Center — Christ Church plans to overhaul its 3.5-acre property. This includes building about 50 affordable apartment rentals, renovating facilities for Little Blessings, which is already housed at Christ Church, and renovating the former church rectory to accommodate worship services. The church’s property would also become the new headquarters for HAVEN, the state’s largest nonprofit dedicated to reducing domestic and sexual violence, according to an April 10 press release from the Diocese of New Hampshire.

 “This is what happens when faithful people dare to pray for a vision of God’s purposes,” New Hampshire Bishop A. Robert Hirschfeld said in the press release.

New Hampshire Bishop A. Robert Hirschfeld, right, stands in front of Christ Episcopal Church in Portsmouth with HAVEN executive director Kathy Beebe, center, and Portsmouth Housing Authority executive director Craig Welch, left. Photo: Kathleen Soldati

Christ Church’s congregation is small but active, but maintaining the church’s building “has become a burden,” according to the press release. With these partnerships, the building would remain intact, and worship services would move to the revamped rectory. 

In New Hampshire, 23% of renter households have incomes below the state’s poverty guideline. In the state’s Seacoast, where Portsmouth is located, the housing crisis is attributed to an increasing demand for affordable housing while rental prices continue to escalate. Nearly 100,000 of New Hampshire’s residents live in poverty.

The Portsmouth Housing Authority has been developing and managing affordable housing for more than 70 years.

“This is an important opportunity to begin making a dent in building more rental options for the vital workers in our community who can no longer afford to live in Portsmouth,” Craig Welch, Portsmouth Housing Authority’s executive, said in the press release. “The PHA is so touched by the parishioners at Christ Church who are committed to their mission to serve people in our community by taking real action.”

HAVEN offers domestic and sexual violence support and prevention education services.

[Partnering with Christ Church] will allow us to expand our client services, counseling, educational outreach, and provide program and office space in a centralized location,” Kathy Beebe, HAVEN’s executive director said in the press release.

HAVEN and 11 other independent crisis centers are part of the statewide New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic & Sexual Assault umbrella organization. In 2021, those centers collectively served 12,334 people affected by domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking and human trafficking, according to the coalition.

In 2022, the median family income in New Hampshire was $119,983, according to the New Hampshire Fiscal Policy Institute. The federal government considers affordable child care to cost no more than 7% of a family’s income. This means that households with children that earned the median income in 2022 would have spent 24% of their income on child care.

“A renovated or new space will strengthen our ability to continue providing quality services, especially in these challenging times for the early education industry,” Diana St. Jean, director of Little Blessings Child Care Center, said in the press release. “This is a tremendous opportunity that we are very grateful to be a part of, and we look forward to our partnership with the diocese, Portsmouth Housing Authority, and HAVEN as the project develops and comes to fruition.”

Christ Church and its partners will present a draft plan to the Portsmouth Planning Board by the end of April. 

“This will be a bold project that will further God’s love and care in this community,” Hirschfeld said in the press release. “I’m grateful to all involved for their courageous collaboration.”

Christ Church was founded in July 1883. When the original building burned down 80 years later, a local benefactor donated the land where the church was rebuilt and stands today. 

-Shireen Korkzan is a reporter and assistant editor for Episcopal News Service based in northern Indiana. She can be reached at skorkzan@episcopalchurch.org.