Newsworthy Articles

News and Media Update 6/10/22

Houses of Worship and Real Estate

Many faith communities across the United States are experiencing declining attendance, resulting in less offerings and donations at the same time that their buildings age and need funds for maintenance and upkeep.

In the face of these concurrent crises, many houses of worship are choosing to close: this week, there was press coverage about a 150-year-old church in Grand Rapids closing its doors.

Other faith-based organizations seek to sell their buildings and pursue less expensive-to-maintain real estate situations: Religion News covered several seminaries that have sold significant amounts of their property.

Faith-based organizations have also pursued affordable housing development on their property, which both establishes revenue to support their missions, but also provides housing to their community, at a time when housing affordability is in major crisis. In Ottawa, the Anglican Diocese has been pursuing affordable housing on some sites, and is exploring building additional housing on even more of its property. Closer to home, a new affordable housing complex for seniors opened in the Morrisiana section of the Bronx, in a partnership between the United Methodist City Society, Bronx Pro Group, and The Fortune Society.

This process of reimagining faith properties has benefits both for houses of worship as well as their wider neighborhoods and communities. Two recent articles by Rick Reinhardt and Chris Elisara highlight the ways that urban planning professionals and community groups can partner with faith-based organizations.

But of course, while some faith communities struggle to understand how to deal with their aging real property, other communities are looking to find new spaces to worship for their growing congregations. In Birmingham, England, the ArRahma Muslim Foundation is looking to build a mosque in a shuttered former pub building. The pub was featured in the popular television program Peaky Blinders. Local non-Muslim community members are expressing concern over traffic and parking that may come with opening a mosque; news coverage has not highlighted any concerns about traffic were the structure to reopen as a pub.

The Garrison Pub in Birmingham, England.

Houses of Faith and Mission Work

After recent mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas, and Buffalo, New York, there have continued to be incidents of mass gun violence across the United States. Last week, at a parking lot outside of a church in Ames, Iowa, a gunman killed two women before turning the gun on himself. A third woman escaped unharmed.

As we've covered in recent news and media updates, faith communities are responding to mass shootings: holding panel discussions and vigils, creating public memorials and calls to action, and organizing protests and rallies in support of gun reform.

Additionally, as we enter the second week of Pride month, some congregations and traditions are working to be more inclusive to LGBTQ+ people. Conservative rabbis recently introduced new language to include nonbinary Jews in worship services. In Houston, activist Erum Rani is working to open an affirming mosque for queer Muslims. Many congregations have displayed pride flags and signage celebrating the LGBTQ+ community. However, such efforts are not always welcomed by wider communities: a rainbow banner was ripped down outside a church in Forest Hills, Queens and a Kansas City congregation's pride flag was vandalized.

Affordable Housing and Urban Issues

Unfortunately, this was a bleak week in housing news in New York State. At the State Legislature, Good Cause Eviction legislation did not cross the finish line. At the same time, housing affordability in New York is increasingly in crisis. In mid-May, Curbed published an article noting that there are now more AirBNB listings than apartments for rent in New York City. Despite the failure of good cause eviction, some efforts are being made to aid in the housing crisis -- Governor Hochul recently signed legislation to expand hotel to housing conversions.

But housing affordability is an issue nationwide, not just in large cities like NYC. Even in mobile home parks, rents are ballooning, threatening one of the nation's largest sources of affordable housing.

Cities are exploring options to spur the construction of additional housing stock (including efforts like New York's hotel to housing conversions). Philadelphia is exploring the possibility of constructing new single-room occupancy (SRO) housing, an affordable model that fell out of favor in the US in the late 20th century. Portland, Oregon, is reducing parking minimums in order to make more development possible. And while Not-In-My-Backyard (NIMBY) homeowners once successfully fought any new development in their neighborhoods, there seems to be increasing support for development of new housing stock: the New York Times published an article this week proclaiming the "Twilight of the NIMBY."

In addition to efforts to construct new affordable housing, many municipalities are working to preserve existing affordable housing stock. Los Angeles plans to bid on a 124-unit building in Chinatown in an effort to prevent massive rent increases. In Chicago, the Community Investment Corporation has been working to provide financing and support to maintain naturally occurring affordable housing stock.

Mobile homes and trailer parks remain a significant source of affordable housing stock, though rents are ballooning at many properties. Photo: ddatch54 on Flickr. Creative Commons License.

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