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How Faith-based Developments Can Provide Affordable Housing Solutions

Faith-based real estate assets can help congregations better serve their communities while reaping financial gains.

Published By: Urban Campus & Core News November 14, 2023
How Faith-based Developments Can Provide Affordable Housing Solutions

Rendering of Northview Housing Development, an active senior community development in partnership with a leading faith-based organization in Nashville

Government officials from small towns to major cities face an affordable housing crisis. Meanwhile, houses of worship are seeing a steady decline in attendance as Americans who categorize themselves as non-religious are on the rise. 

Religious organizations with underutilized property and land are partnering with real estate developers and government officials to offer a solution to both problems. 

The collaboration between faith-based organizations and real estate developers goes beyond being good Samaritans. It’s a win-win for congregations and underserved communities. 

“In communities across the US, faith-based organizations have had a rich history as the connectors of communities and leaders in advocating for the needs of residents, and more often than not, these organizations are some of the largest landowners in the area,” says Jennifer Horne, managing partner at Nashville based Urban Campus and Core. “This creates a unique alignment between a mission of advocacy and inclusion with real opportunities to connect assets with solutions.”

According to the government policy newsletter Route Fifty, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the country's fifth-largest landowner, and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops owns property in nearly every county in the U.S. 

These real estate assets allow religious organizations to fund their community outreach objectives. The key is connecting faith-based organizations with real estate developers who can navigate the complexities of finding common ground between governments and communities. 

Faith-based affordable housing in Nashville

One example is the Northview Housing Development, an active senior community development in North Nashville. Urban Campus & Core, in partnership with a leading faith-based organization, is developing a project that addresses housing affordability, health and wellness, and the wealth gap for American seniors. The Northview Housing Development project combines adult job skills training and community health services through university partnerships to help active seniors transition to new tech and co-working roles. 

“By creating ground lease structures or land equity investments, faith-based organizations can be the driving force behind what is ultimately developed on their sites and the stewards to ensure it is done in a way that benefits the broader community,” says Horne. 

The type of collaboration between Urban Campus and Core and faith-based organizations happening nationwide. 

Maryland-based national non-profit Enterprise Community Partners launched its Faith-Based Development Initiative (FBDI) in 2006. The FBDI provides houses of worship with the knowledge and tools to develop underutilized land into affordable homes and community facilities. In 2022, Enterprise expanded its FBDI to Baltimore, Atlanta, South Florida, New York, and Seattle. 

The Canopy Forum and the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University (CSLR) conducted a study that included surveys of 33 congregations representing a diverse cross-section of U.S. mainline religious denominations. The sample included Presbyterian, Episcopal, Catholic, Methodist, and Baptist congregations, other Protestant denominations, a Jewish congregation, and three ecumenical coalitions. 

In the Canopy study, congregations' primary reasons for choosing their developer were that the developer shared the congregation’s mission and vision and demonstrated they had years of expertise and credibility. 

According to the Canopy Forum, “in the “post-construction and management” phase of a housing development, keeping the congregation involved with the property and offering social service support to tenants was important. Two participants recommended that during lease-up, congregations can help educate local residents about the affordable housing application process to mitigate gentrification.”

“Some of the challenges are that for many churches, they do not have internal real estate development expertise, and it can be intimidating to find the right partner that shares their mission or understands the vision and focus of the organization,” says Horne. “Urban Campus and Core is a firm focused on community-led and inspired development that generates equitable outcomes for stakeholders. This often aligns with the focus of faith-based organizations as we work collaboratively to focus on the “greater good.” 

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