Yes in God’s Backyard: How building affordable housing could be a lifeline for churches

“If [the coronavirus] leaves us with more open space to build more desperately needed housing, amen.”

National /
Jul.July 13, 2020 03:15 PM
(iStock)

(iStock)

Churches, whose already declining attendance plummeted during the pandemic, are now looking to development for extra cash.

Places of worship are offering up their excess land to developers, Bloomberg reported. The prospect is a particular draw for institutions looking to combat homelessness. Before the coronavirus hit, more than 550,000 people were homeless in the U.S., according to the outlet.

Religious institutions are among the biggest landowners in the country, with UC Berkeley’s Terner Center for Housing Innovation estimating that nearly 40,000 acres in California are owned by such institutions and have development potential. The state Senate in California passed legislation in June that allows affordable-housing developers to bypass some land-use rules when developing on land owned by religious institutions.

“Land that belongs to faith communities is supposed to be for the services of the vulnerable,” Monica Ball, a leader of the Yes in God’s Back Yard (YIGBY) movement in San Diego, told Bloomberg. “If [the coronavirus] leaves us with more open space to build more desperately needed housing, amen.”

There are a number of challenges related to developing on such land, however. Some affordable-housing financing programs, such as the Low Income Housing Tax Credit, are designed for larger developments. Ball told the publication that her organization aims to coordinate donations as well as low-interest loans to help fund some of these projects.

YIGBY’s first partner is Bethel A.M.E. church, San Diego’s oldest Black church. It will convert property it owns into 16 one-bedroom apartments for homeless seniors and veterans.

Religious institutions across the country have for many years looked to capitalize on their holdings in the face of declining attendance and shaky finances. In New York City, major religious institutions such as St. Patrick’s Cathedral, St. Bartholomew’s and Central Synagogue own air rights worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

[Bloomberg] — TRD Staff


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