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Can Churches Help To Ease The Affordable-Housing Shortage?

20 Sep , 2021  

This recent piece in Governing is part of the SoJo Exchange from the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to rigorous reporting about responses to social problems. The original post can be read here

By Rick Reinhard, Governing, September 9, 2021

Many houses of worship own empty and underused buildings and land. Cities and counties need properties for affordable housing. Seems like a match made in, well, heaven.

But matchmaking between houses of worship and local governments is not quite so simple. Houses of worship can be frustrating, sometimes almost impossible, to work with. Members tend to be elderly and get stuck on what their church, synagogue or other house of worship used to be, not on what it currently is. Convoluted management structures are common in the religious world, meaning that a congregation, pastor, trustees, bishop and sometimes even a regional body may need to be on board to approve a sale or redevelopment project. Cemeteries requiring perpetual care may be part of the property, and deeds may include reversionary clauses, returning the property to original owners (even from the 19th century) if the property is used for anything but religious services.

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