Newsworthy Articles

News and Media Update April 22, 2022

Houses of Worship and Real Estate

Many faith-based organizations are pursuing real estate development to sustain their work in the face of tight budgets and shrinking membership. The Guardian ran a story this week about several Miami churches that are developing their property, a hot real estate market. In New York City, Union Theological Seminary is developing a primarily luxury condo tower to fund the work of the seminary. The National Catholic Register this week published an article highlighting many of the creative reuses of Catholic faith properties.

While some faith communities are repurposing their property, other faith communities are embarking on acquiring and developing new property. In Crown Heights, Brooklyn, the Bais Shmuel Synagogue broke ground on their new building this week, which will include worship and community spaces, and a small community housing component. In Texas, the Centro Islámico, the United States's only Spanish-speaking Islamic Center, is breaking ground on an expansion to accommodate their growing membership.

As we covered last week, faith-based organizations are sites of gathering, worship, and community, but also can be targets of hate crimes and terrorism, largely because of their roles as community institutions for marginalized groups. In Louisiana, three Black Baptist churches are rebuilding after a 2019 arson left their buildings unusable. Last month, an Ontario man attempted to bomb a local mosque, traumatizing many worshippers, but was successfully stopped by 20 worshippers who held him down after he let a stream of bear spray loose in the space. As religious communities face increasing attacks, some have invested in self-defense classes and trainings to better prepare for violent incidents.

Faith Communities and Mission Work

Religious communities are embracing new technologies in their worship and rituals. A Maryland megachurch has found success conducting "virtual baptisms," with congregants utilizing their bathtubs at home. At the Grand Mosque in Makkah, religious leaders have implemented wheeled "fatwa robots" which provide information, instructions on rituals performance, and an opportunity to speak with Islamic scholars throughout several sites.

Despite rising COVID-19 case numbers, many activities and places are reopening and restarting. This past weekend marked the return of Coachella, the famed music festival in the California desert -- which unsurprisingly has caused a large uptick in COVID-19 cases in the surrounding area. Still, some Jewish festival attendees gathered to observe a brief Passover Seder, organized by rapper Kosha Dillz, who labeled the event "Matzahchella."

Coachella Music Festival. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Affordable Housing and Urban Issues

As pandemic-era eviction moratoriums lift, many tenants are finding themselves evicted from their homes. Across the country, including in Texas, tenants are being forced to move out. Although evictions have increased after pandemic-era policies have lifted, many evictions, often illegal, occurred throughout the pandemic. A piece in Mother Jones highlighted the disproportionate impact of evictions on Black and Latino renters.

Large barriers remain to the construction of affordable housing, but government officials can pass new laws to make construction easier. In Governing, an article highlighted policies like inclusionary zoning, micro-housing ordinances, and accessory dwelling units, which could expand affordable housing stock. CalMatters encouraged lawmakers to dispense with parking minimums in order to create additional housing units.

Often, policymakers will look to homeownership as an opportunity to ensure affordable housing for working-class communities and communities of color. As prices have risen, many communities have been shut out of homeownership; in Pittsburgh, for example, Black homeownership is significantly down in recent years, due to rising prices and inability to access financing. People who do purchase homes are often doing so using very risky financing products -- the Pew Trust found that 1 in 5 people have used alternative financing, like a land contract or lease-purchase agreement, at some point in their life. Risky financing disproportionately impacts working-class and communities of color. However, there are other models of ownership, such as cooperative ownership, that could serve to preserve affordability for communities.

In Jacobin this week, writer Dan Darrah advocated for a solution outside of private affordable rentals or homeownership: public housing.

Co-Op City in the Bronx, the US's largest cooperative housing site. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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