By The Rev. Dr. Joyce Parry-Moore/rector of St. James Episcopal Church
I spent my formative years on a farm in Kent, near what is now Reber Ranch. My parents moved there from Seattle to live a quiet life with horses and cows. My earliest memories were of a close-knit, rural neighborhood, and although Kent had grown in the previous decade to 65,000, it remained proud of its agricultural heritage.
After my adult life took me around the country, I recently returned to Kent as rector of St. James Episcopal Church. What a startling transformation I discovered. Dairies and farms replaced by logistics and manufacturing facilities, families in the Kent School District speaking 138 languages, and the population doubled to more than 120,000. As the second fastest growing city in the United States, in 2017 Kent also had the seventh largest increase in average rent in the country.
While I welcome such vast cultural diversity and economic growth in my birthplace, as a faith leader committed to pursuing the common good and a life of dignity for everyone, I find myself wrestling with the social justice implications in our city’s transformation. For too many of our neighbors, Kent’s development brought peril, not prosperity. As I hear the stories of the more than 100 people each week who visit St. James’ Outreach Office, and work in partnership with other local faith communities and organizations, the deep crisis of housing affordability in our city becomes increasingly apparent.
St. James has served the community of Kent since 1890, first in the downtown area, and now on East Hill. We’ve witnessed and supported the changing needs of individuals and families throughout those decades, and now we see this: finding a safe, affordable place to live is the most significant pressure on a huge proportion of our neighbors.
The Kent City Council is expected to make an appointment to fill the council’s vacant seat soon, a critical time for so many Kent families. This presents an opportunity to consider advancing housing policies that support our families in the coming two years and beyond. As City Council members consider who to appoint to the council, I urge them to focus on this question for candidates: will they advance the dignity and affordability of housing for all our neighbors in Kent?
I’m honored to sit on the board of the Church Council of Greater Seattle, and in partnership with our local coalition of intercultural and interfaith allies, we are conducting a survey of candidates for the vacant seat, asking simple questions about the candidates’ positions on housing issues. We will offer the results of this survey for publication, and will deliver the results to City Council members as they consider this critical appointment.
I pray for a future Kent that will foster both growth and justice, offering abundant prospects for all of our neighbors. The wise discernment of our elected officials can help fulfill this potential.
The Rev. Dr. Joyce Parry-Moore is rector of St. James Episcopal Church, Kent. Born and raised in Washington state, she had a career in classical singing that took her to Boston, New York and Alaska. She attended seminary at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, and completed her doctorate of ministries studies in pastoral counseling.