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Some Churches Are Building Affordable Housing on Their Unused Land

Across the U.S., houses of worship own thousands of acres of land to do as they please. Now, thanks to new grants, congregations in Atlanta, New York, Baltimore, Miami and Seattle will be able to build affordable housing on their properties.

Enterprise Community Partners, a national nonprofit, recently announced $8.5 million in grants from the Wells Fargo Foundation to help houses of worship convert underutilized land into affordable homes and community facilities. The grants will help build roughly 6,000 affordable homes.

The effort was launched by Atlanta First United Methodist Church, and Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens said, “To meet my administration’s ambitious goal of creating or preserving 20,000 units of affordable housing, we will need the assistance of all facets of our community using all tools at our disposal.”

Reports show that roughly 580,000 individuals are currently homeless and 7 million Americans are in need of better affordable housing. The average cost of a house in America is $453,700, and that number can be much, much higher depending on where you are located.

Thousands of empty acres are currently underutilized, and Enterprise wants to partner with churches to establish safe and affordable housing for communities in need. In the Atlanta area alone, Enterprise will help about 15 places of worship create 1,000 affordable homes over the next five years. The nonprofit organization will assist faith leaders in handling the development process, entering long-term ground lease agreements and referring them to trusted architects and designers.

Enterprise’s Faith-Based Development Initiative began in 2006. Over the last 15 years, the nonprofit has helped faith-based organizations establish more than 1,500 affordable homes and one community-based health clinic.

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David Bowers, vice president at Enterprise Community Partners, spoke with Religion News Service about why the organization feels compelled to help communities in this way.

“It’s this notion of there’s a compelling human need that a house of worship exists in and it’s sitting on a resource. It becomes a stewardship issue. Is this something that God is calling us to do … that allows us to be good and faithful stewards to have more impact?

“Does this mean every house of worship should do it? No,” Bowers continued. “What we are saying is that you have the need. You have the resource. There is potential to get this done in a way that helps provide for the needs of people who are living in the community in which houses of worship exist.”

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