The Rev. Michael Bell to lead housing development for EDLA churches
Episcopal Communities & Services (ECS) has hired the Rev. Michael Bell as director of housing and business development, a newly created position key to Bishop John Harvey Taylor’s vision to build affordable residential units on 25 percent of the diocese’s 133 church campuses.
“We are deeply grateful for the opportunity to provide choice and security to those with limited or no housing options,” said James Rothrock, president and CEO of ECS, a century-old diocesan institution that began as the former Episcopal Home retirement residence in Alhambra.
Bell – a former director at Pfizer and former senior spiritual care director PIH Health whose new work begins Aug. 1 – “has the heart, passion and talent necessary to succeed in this endeavor,” Rothrock said. “I am very pleased that he will lead this initiative on behalf of ECS and the diocese.”
Taylor concurs: “Michael brings just the right gifts to this ministry of uncovering possibility, building housing for our neighbors, and sustaining and building up our ministry centers, missions, and parishes. He’s a strategic thinker who’s brilliant with numbers – and these projects are always financially complex. But what stands out the most is Michael’s charism as a pastor. He connects deeply and empathetically with all who are in need. In this new ministry, he’ll be pastoring to those in our neighborhoods who need housing and those in our congregations with still unrealized potential for providing it. In doing so, he will help the Holy Spirit create new communities, over and over again.
“We’re deeply grateful to our colleagues at ECS,” Taylor said. “While they’ve shown incredible support for our housing projects, creating this position is truly an act of prophetic love.”
In his new post – fully funded by ECS – Bell will identify and support developments such as the $21 million St. Michael’s Apartments in Riverside, set for dedication July 24 to bless 50 units into which formerly unhoused and other very low-income residents moved earlier this year.
Similarly, 65 units of senior housing are nearing completion at Blessed Sacrament Episcopal Church in Placentia, and an August groundbreaking is planned for 66 more senior apartments at St. Joseph’s, Buena Park. The diocese is guiding some 10 additional initiatives planned for Episcopal churches in Anaheim, Claremont, Downey, Garden Grove, and Gardena, among others.
“Imagine at least a fourth of our churches providing financially sustainable sites of shelter and wellness for lower-income families, seniors, refugees, and neighbors who are most at risk of experiencing homelessness,” said Bell, whose new post makes him available to all congregations considering new builds in partnership with experienced developers.
“Envision these parish communities as thriving with life and hope,” he said, “occupying properties designed intentionally for inter-generational and inclusive mutual support as way of living out ‘love of neighbor.’”
Bell, 53, who holds graduate degrees in education and theology from Harvard University, adds: “Numerous studies inform us that the neighborhoods people live in, and particularly access to stable, safe, and affordable housing is one of the most influential social determinants of health and well-being.”
Bell’s new work will bring him in contact with developers, service providers, interfaith advocates, and government leaders addressing the current crisis-level lack of affordable housing across the five and one-quarter counties within the diocese, where statistics indicate that at least 85,000 people are now unhoused.