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Churches Are Building Housing Developments ‘in God’s Back Yard’

The coronavirus is devastating churches' finances. Affordable housing could provide an answer. 

The St. Francis Apartments in Denver opened in 2018 after St. John's Cathedral leased a parking lot it owned to a nonprofit developer. The 50-unit building houses formerly homeless people in the city's Capitol Hill neighborhood.

Photo courtesy of RATIO

The Arlington Presbyterian Church in Virginia was dealing with declining Sunday attendance, and fewer donations, before deciding to turn to an affordable housing developer for help. In 2016, with membership down to about 60 from a height of 1,000 in the 1950s, the church sold its century-old sanctuary to the nonprofit Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing (APAH). The developer razed the church and built a seven-story, 173-unit affordable complex in its place, allowing the congregation to escape increasing costs while fulfilling an obligation to care for the poor. Today, the church leases space on the ground floor of the building to serve its congregants.

“We had an alignment of mission,” Nina Janopaul, the CEO of APAH, said of the $71 million project that opened in November. “Their mantra was, the church is the people and the mission, not the building.”