Churches Roll Out The Housing Carpet

view of new apartment building from the street
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New affordable housing built on a site owned by the United Church.

Churches have a history of speaking up for people who are oppressed in society. Faith based organizations have charitable arms that provide services and supports. Religious instruction also directs the faithful to not turn their backs on people who are suffering.

In the realm of housing, faith based activities often provide emergency support to people who are homeless, including soup kitchens, drop-in centres and emergency shelters. Adding to the supply of housing stock is less common, but it does happen. This post is about initiatives in Canada and the United States.

In British Columbia, the provincial government has negotiated an agreement  with the United Church of Canada. The terms of the agreement include:

  • The United Church provides lands it owns that are occupied by existing churches. The churches will be demolished.
  • The provincial government manages the construction of affordable housing on the sites. Some of the new homes will have rents as low as $375/month. Others will have rents affordable for middle income households.
  • The new buildings also house community services and worship spaces.

The agreement was struck in 2018 and the first building with 75 units held its official opening in November 2022.

Developing housing is not new for churches in Canada, which stepped up to offer their vacant land for development as non-profit housing during the last century. At the time, the Canadian government was funding the construction of 20,000 units of non-profit housing per year. What’s different now is that many congregations have shrunk in size and are unable to pay to keep their church buildings in a state of good repair. When the church building is demolished, there is space for new housing to be built.

This story is interesting partly because the agreement includes more than one property.  When completed, there will be 400 units of new affordable housing built on lands that the United Church owns in communities across British Columbia.

The story from the United States is about churches with Black congregations, which are also embarking on developing affordable housing projects. Nadia Mian has followed this issue for 10 years. She writes about the necessary connections that Black congregations have forged with local governments, funders and project developers in order to see the dream of building affordable housing through to cutting the ribbon.

Mian also discusses that Black churches have advocated to get more affordable housing built in their communities, expanding their impact from one site to many. In some cases, the scope of work includes ownership and rental housing.

Mian’s article provides detail about the development process and will likely be useful to congregations that are starting to think about the future of their church.

For more about church-sited affordable housing in British Columbia, check out Canadian Architect: B.C. Government, United Church Partner In New Affordable Housing Developments and CTVNews: Affordable rental housing opens on United Church property in Coquitlam

Mian’s article is published by Shelterforce: Black Congregations Are Developing Housing on Church Land