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  • Writer's pictureDaniel Pryfogle

Sacred/Civic Placemaking

Congregations Want to Repurpose Their Properties for the Common Good

The Episcopal Church of the Resurrection in Alexandria, Va., took down its building to construct 113 affordable apartments and a right-sized sanctuary. (Artist rendering via AHC, Inc.)

The United Church of Canada has 3,000 properties with a combined valuation of about $2 billion. What to do with such a precious resource? Nora Sanders, recently retired general secretary, said, "(T)his is the abundance that is available to create the world that we want to see."

Anecdotal evidence suggests that faith communities are starting to reimagine use of their properties for social impact. Three significant shifts seem to be underway:

1. The mostly positive experience of digital faith community is prompting some congregations to re-evaluate their use of property.

2. A growing number of congregations want to maximize their property for mission and financial sustainability.

3. The cost of upkeep of older but not historic buildings measured against the opportunity to have new, right-sized space for the worshipping community plus social impact is compelling more congregations to let go of their buildings for redevelopment.

The Episcopal Church of the Resurrection in Alexandria, Va., let go of its building. In its place, the church built 113 affordable apartments and a new sanctuary appropriately sized for the smaller yet bolder congregation. Developer AHC, Inc. expects to open the apartments in late March.

Sacred/civic placemaker Sympara is guiding Greenwood Forest Baptist Church of Cary, N.C., through a six-month discernment for redevelopment of its five-acre property. And Sympara just launched an exploration process to build affordable senior housing and a child care center on the campus of Concord United Methodist Church in Concord, Calif.

Sympara is helping senior housing developer and operator HumanGood identify California congregations with property suitable for below-market-rate housing. A study released last year by the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at the University of California, Berkeley, counted nearly 39,000 acres of developable property in the state owned by religious communities — the size of the city of Stockton.

Last year the United Church of Canada launched United Property Resource Corporation to finance, develop and manage church properties to renew mission and impact neighborhoods. The company aims to have 1,500 affordable housing units in development by 2025 and 5,000 by 2035.

“This is one of the largest opportunities to reimagine what our neighborhoods could look like over the next 15 years and the common good that repurposing real estate can have on communities,” said CEO Tim Blair in a press release.

In a statement on its website, the Church of the Resurrection frames the opportunity this way: "We have sacrificed our building to carry out the vision God has given us."

Daniel Pryfogle is cofounder and CEO of Sympara.


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