(RNS) — Houses of worship own thousands of acres across the U.S., and now through millions of dollars in new grants, congregations in Atlanta, New York, Baltimore, Miami and Seattle will be building affordable housing on their properties.
The national nonprofit Enterprise Community Partners on Wednesday (Feb. 23) announced $8.5 million in grants from the Wells Fargo Foundation to help houses of worship convert underutilized land into affordable homes and community facilities. The effort was launched at Atlanta First United Methodist Church.
This money will help build roughly 6,000 affordable homes, Enterprise said.
“To meet my administration’s ambitious goal of creating or preserving 20,000 units of affordable housing, we will need the assistance of all facets of our community using all tools at our disposal,” Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens said at the event.
In Atlanta’s Fulton County alone, faith-based organizations own more than 6,000 acres, much of which is underutilized, Enterprise said. With this funding, Enterprise will help about 15 houses of worship in the Atlanta metro area to create 1,000 affordable homes over the next five years.
As pastors may lack the resources or knowledge to cut housing deals, the nonprofit will assist faith leaders in navigating the development process, enter into long-term ground lease agreements and refer them to vetted development partners, such as architects and designers.
Enterprise’s Faith-Based Development Initiative launched in 2006 in the Mid-Atlantic region, where it has helped faith-based organizations create or preserve more than 1,500 affordable homes and one community-based health clinic.
“It’s this notion of there’s a compelling human need that a house of worship exists in and it’s sitting on a resource. It becomes a stewardship issue. Is this something that God is calling us to do … that allows us to be good and faithful stewards to have more impact?” David Bowers, vice president at Enterprise Community Partners, told Religion News Service.
“Does this mean every house of worship should do it? No. What we are saying is that you have the need. You have the resource. There is potential to get this done in a way that helps provide for the needs of people who are living in the community in which houses of worship exist,” added Bowers, who is also an ordained minister.
Similar approaches are happening in other parts of the nation.
In California, the Rev. John Cager, pastor of Ward African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Los Angeles, helped create the Faith Community Coalition, a network of pastors that seeks to find better opportunities for faith leaders who may feel the need to sell when they’re in a position of declining revenue.
Ultimately, the coalition aims for churches to work with developers who are willing to enter into full partnerships with parishes, evenly splitting the revenues and paving the way for the houses of worship to eventually own the properties.
“The operating ethos of the coalition is that we want to do housing and do development as a ministry,” Cager told RNS in March. “We believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ.”