News and Media Update: June 27, 2022

Houses of Worship and Real Estate

As their buildings age and their congregations shrink — in line with national attendance trends — many houses of worship struggle to maintain their historic structures. In Bushwick, the steeple of the South Bushwick Reformed Church (built in 1853) has been successfully stabilized after concerns by neighbors that it “looked ready to topple over.” While these exterior elements have been restored in line with NYC Landmarks law, significant work remains to repair the church’s roof and soffit; the congregation is working to raise funds to complete this work.

This week, we’ve seen more examples of congregations pursuing affordable housing development. A Canadian congregation is pivoting to affordable housing development to stabilize their building and finances after their city council rejected their plan to build market-rate condominiums. In the Bronx, NYC’s Department of City Planning recently heard an application for a large affordable senior housing building that will also include space for a church.

In Hampshire, England, a new mosque has been approved by their city council. The mosque will occupy a ground-floor space in a two-story building. The space had previously been a furniture store. Many faith communities pursue reusing and adapting commercial or residential spaces in lieu of constructing an entirely new building.

South Bushwick Reformed Church

Houses of Faith and Mission Work

Safety and security remain a concern for many congregations. Another recent mass shooting at a house of worship left two dead and one wounded. A shooter entered a church potluck for Baby Boomers in Alabama and began shooting, before attendees disarmed the shooter with a metal chair. In addition to the threat of violence, vandalism and theft also are a concern for many. After a major robbery last month at a Brooklyn church, Religion News highlighted the efforts some houses of worship have made to secure their spaces, though not all faith-based organizations have the extensive resources to make many of the interventions outlined.

Faith communities responded swiftly after the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade on Friday. Some have said that the Court's overturning of Roe, along with their decision in Carson v. Makin (more on this in our next issue), represents a dismantling of the boundary between church and state. Some congregations, like the First Unitarian Church in Dallas, continued their long-running work of helping people access abortion services. Other faith communities, who had been organizing and fighting against abortion, were pleased with the Court's decision. In the wake of the ruling, some pro-life faith properties feared vandalism and violence at their houses of worship. (No violence by pro-abortion protesters occurred at houses of worship; we could find just two reports of abortion-related vandalism on faith properties this weekend.) In response to these fears, right-wing activists called on militias to "protect" churches and pregnancy crisis centers from the threat of violence.

This weekend, New York City celebrated Pride Weekend, the 53rd anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. The riots at Stonewall marked a tipping point in the fight for gay liberation in New York City and the wider country. In this lecture, Heather R. White explores the relationships between religious spaces and queer movements in NYC: in many cases, queer activists would organize and hold meetings in the community rooms of neighborhood houses of worship. However, relationships between queer and faith communities are not always easy. In Tablet Magazine, a roundtable of LGBTQ+ Jews discuss their intersecting identities, and the remaining barriers to building a truly queer-affirming community. Some houses of worship face pushback for their efforts to be more welcoming to LGBTQ+ communities. A Grand Rapids church was ordered by the Christian Reformed synod to rescind its lesbian deacon; it is unclear whether the church will comply. In Worcester, Massachusetts, a school has been stripped of the ability to label itself "Catholic," after the diocese objected to the school's display of pride and Black Lives Matter flags.

A pride celebration outside of Stonewall Inn in 2016.

Affordable Housing and Urban Issues

As inflation increases rents and housing costs across the country, New York City rent-stabilized tenants will soon see their steepest rent hikes since the Bloomberg era: 3.25% for one-year leases and 5% for two-year leases. For non-stabilized tenants, increases have been even higher: an average of 25%.

The rise of large, corporate landlords is a contributing factor to the unaffordability crisis. In San Diego, Blackstone plans to spend over $1 billion to purchase 66 apartment complexes. A significant amount of the units are "naturally-occurring affordable housing," and some community members are concerned that the new owners may seek to raise rents. (Blackstone expressed a desire to "engage with the State of California and San Diego municipal government to explore opportunities to support and/or add affordable housing in San Diego.")
Corporate and private equity landlords invest in properties beyond large multifamily units in hot real estate markets. They also increasingly purchase single family homes -- 25% of single-family homes in the Tampa region were purchased by firms last year. Some tenants are organizing against their new corporate landlords. In Minneapolis, where some tenants struggle to get their landlords to make important repairs on the single family homes they rent, renters are organizing to put their rent in escrow and demand the work be completed.

Looking to preserve your space through a variety of creative strategies?