South Carolina Churches and Faith Groups Build Affordable Homes



GREENVILLE, SC – For years, Betty Todd has been forced to pay increasing rents for homes laden with problems with repairs and a landlord who refused to do them.

What gave him hope was the announcement from his pastor, Rev. Steve Watson, that the New Jerusalem Baptist Church in Greer would build affordable homes in the community.

Todd stayed in a “not good” house on Sunnyside Drive and waited. She also prayed.

In June 2020, his prayer was answered. She became a tenant in a new three bedroom house built by New Jerusalem Baptist.

“Not only is it beautiful, but it’s something we Social Security seniors can afford,” said Todd, who is single and cares for an elderly woman.

“I go to bed happy and I wake up happy, thanking the Lord for my home,” Todd said.

Many others may feel inclined to do the same as more and more churches – local and national – join the effort to fill the gaps in the affordable housing crisis.

The New Jerusalem Church began the journey 20 years ago. They have completed four homes in the community of Greer’s Sunnyside and are expected to build 16-18 more.

“A lot of people cannot afford regular rent in this area of ​​the community,” Watson said. “I feel the Lord has ordered us to go out and try to fill the void, to meet the need.”

North Hills Church in Taylors is partnering with Homes of Hope to build an 18-lot, six-acre subdivision they own across from its Edwards Road campus.

Part of the burden of helping meet the need for affordable housing is to make a difference in terms of racial and economic justice. Allan Sherer, chairman of the North Hills Elders Council, sees the church business as an example of “loving neighbor.”

North Hills historically has focused on hurting people, he said. The combination of everything that is happening with race in America and the housing crisis “just makes us realize that something has to happen,” Sherer said.

A guidance note released in May 2020 by UC Berkeley’s Terner Center for Housing Innovation, focused on expanding the capacity of religious institutions to build housing on their land as an option for them. cities struggling with where and how to build affordable housing.

“Churches, as well as other faith-based organizations, often own underutilized land and / or structures that could be used to expand the supply of affordable housing. providing income that can stabilize the finances of the organization, ”the study says.

The role that churches in Greenville can play in creating affordable housing locally was highlighted in 2019, when the Greenville Housing Fund said that religious communities in the county own approximately 5,250 acres of land.

JustFaith Greenville, a faith-based organization based in Kentucky, implored churches in Greenville to use some of their resources for affordable housing.

The local model mentioned by JustFaith was carried out by Augusta Heights Baptist Church, which in 2010 sold 2.5 acres of its campus to a developer for $ 570,000 to create 37 affordable housing units, reported The Greenville News. The sale also helped the church get through the heart of the recession.

Another church in Greenville, Allen Temple AME, has been providing housing in low-income communities through its Community Economic Development Corporation since 2005. The company has nearly 90 homes in Greenville and Pickens counties, according to its website. .

Affordable housing projects and preservation efforts at Grace Church, St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, and Allen Temple were among those highlighted by the National Association of Realtors.

But other congregations have also done the job. Mountain View Baptist Church, located on Cagle Street in Greenville, has been buying neighborhood land for decades in an effort to build affordable homes and keep former neighbors returning, said its pastor, Reverend Stacey Mills .

Watson said his church was able to move forward with its residential projects with the support of people in the community who donated property and with the help of funding sources such as CountyBank, the Greenville County Redevelopment Authority and State Housing.

“We have a few vehicles that we use to help offset the costs,” he said. “Of course, whatever they don’t provide, we have to borrow from the bank. It allows us to try and keep the rent low.”

Nationally, there is a shortage of more than 7 million affordable housing units for the country’s more than 10.8 million extremely low-income families, the National Low-Income Housing Coalition said.

There is no state or county where a tenant working full-time for minimum wage can afford a two-bedroom apartment, according to the coalition’s website.

San Diego-based Yes In God’s Backyard (YIGBY) is working to build 3,000 affordable housing units on “religious property” in that city by 2025. The religious community owns over 4,675 acres of land there. , much of which is already zoned for housing, YIGBY’s site says.

The Greenville Housing Fund has a goal of producing 10,000 affordable and workforce-friendly housing units over the next 10 years – essentially 1,000 units per year – and a goal of preserving 3,000 existing units, Bryan said. Brown, executive director of the fund.

Although churches own a lot of property, the maps do not reveal whether the property they own is the actual property of the sanctuary or the adjacent area that is set for a future community center, center of life, or other application oriented towards the sanctuary. the mission that the church wants to use this land for, Brown said.

This is one reason why, in recent times, encouraging churches to build homes on their property has not been a priority in the Housing Fund’s strategic plan, Brown said.

“The Greenville Housing Fund operates a land bank and churches sometimes have property left to them when someone dies,” he said. “I think we would like to do a bit of outreach to the religious communities here that if they receive a bequest of real estate and don’t know what to do with it, the Greenville Housing Fund could work with them to put that bequest to a productive use in particular, in the affordable housing space. “

“It’s a more compelling idea for me to create a church legacy app to help solve our housing affordability issues in Greenville,” he said. “Even though this is a vacant property, we can see it as a way to develop infill housing.”

North Hills leaders have read stories about the lack of affordable housing and how it plays into issues like gentrification.

The results of a study, commissioned by the United Way of Greenville County in partnership with Furman University, showed that residents of the county, especially those who rent, find it difficult to find housing, The Greenville News reported in 2019. .

It comes down to the money, with real median income per household falling 5.3% between 1990 and 2016, and costs, with rent rising nearly 24% across all census tracts in the county, according to the ‘article.

The study also highlighted how, as Greenville grows, poverty and gentrification are also changing.

In its April 2021 “Affordable Housing Project” proposal, North Hills offered to donate approximately four acres of land to Homes of Hope for the construction of 17 single-family homes.

Some homes will be for sale and some will be for rent, with all sales and rental oversight provided by Homes of Hope. The proposal also includes providing $ 500,000 to be used as a 10-year zero-interest loan to enable Homes of Hope to provide the homes at affordable prices for people at the median income level for residents of the area immediately surrounding the church.

“We are forming specific integrated plans to serve, love, and reach those who move into these homes with the gospel,” the proposal said.

North Hills has six acres on Walker Springs Road which it was able to purchase a few years ago. The land was not being used and there was no specific plan for how it would be used, Sherer said.

“We thought, ‘here’s a great opportunity to do a little game to meet that need,’ he said.

Sherer said the “mixed-income housing” development will include three-bedroom, two-bathroom single-family homes.

Some homes in the development will be sold and others rented at market rates, Sherer said. Some housing will be subsidized, and others will be heavily subsidized.

Construction could begin next year, with the first homes being completed by the end of the summer.

The increased interest in local churches or faith-based organizations in residential and commercial development is part of what inspired CommunityWorks to partner with PASTORS – a consulting firm that works specifically with faith-based organizations on development – to offer an “Intensive Financing for Development Event” on October 16.

CommunityWorks is a Greenville-based nonprofit financial organization that works with underserved families and communities, lending to nonprofit organizations.

“So we want to make sure the churches know that we would like to partner with them if they are trying to do their own development, whether it’s for their organization with a new building or whether it’s for affordable housing,” Virginia said. Wilson. , Communications Manager for CommunityWorks.

Registration for the event was capped at 50 people and completed within two days.

“We’re seeing a lot of interest in this, so we think it’s probably a good indicator that this is a trend that’s happening and we hope to be able to offer more in the future,” he said. she declared.


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