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The below excerpt is from “Blessed Homes: Old churches and underutilized properties are finding new use as affordable housing.”
By Donna Kimura, Affordable Housing Finance Magazine
Nearly 3,000 miles away, five faith-based organizations are taking part in an innovative effort to bring more affordable housing to New York City.
The New York Land Opportunity Program (NYLOP) is the first-of-its-kind initiative to help mission-driven groups find partners to develop affordable or supportive housing on their underutilized land.
The program fits into the Local Initiatives Support Corp.’s (LISC’s) work to bring technical and financial resources to underserved communities. LISC typically works with nonprofit community development organizations, which have real estate development and affordable housing as its mission, but NYLOP is different.
“In this case, the city came to us with a problem,” says Sam Marks, executive director of LISC NYC. “They’re facing an affordable housing crisis and looking for every inch of vacant land to transform into housing. Meanwhile, they’re getting calls from churches and faith-based organizations that were routinely receiving offers from developers to buy their properties, but the churches didn’t have the expertise to understand whether these offers made sense.”
In response, LISC worked with the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development and the Mayor’s Community Affairs Unit to create NYLOP.
For the churches, it wasn’t just about dollar signs. Instead, they wanted to learn how to think about their assets in the context of their role as essential community anchors and how they can leverage their resources for the maximum social benefit, Marks says.
Through four information sessions, LISC NYC met with about 300 people. It then received 33 letters of interest, and eventually 19 full applications were submitted. From 10 finalists, five organizations were judged to be in the best position to take advantage of the resources offered and to have sites with the most opportunity for affordable housing development.
The selected participants are the Community Church of New York Unitarian Universalist in Manhattan; St Luke’s Episcopal Church in the Bronx; Shiloh Church of Christ in Harlem; Wakefield Grace Methodist Church in Wakefield, Bronx; and St. John’s Global Ministries near downtown Jamaica, Queens.
The goal is for the groups to release requests for proposals (RFPs) in March, inviting the development community into the process, according to Grace Chung, community development officer at LISC NYC.
In one case, a church owns a large vacant lot behind its sanctuary that it wants to develop. Other organizations have aging structures that they would like to demolish and replace with new sanctuaries along with affordable housing, says Chung.
These old buildings have become expensive to maintain and operate.
“Our goal is not to turn these faith-based organizations into real estate developers,” Marks says. “There’s already a sophisticated ecosystem of partners who do real estate development, particularly affordable housing.”
Instead, LISC is helping the groups develop an RFP and selection criteria. It would then be up to the organizations to select a development partner.
The participants will receive a small grant to help them engage in legal assistance to ink an agreement.
NYLOP is privately funded by the Booth Ferris Foundation with additional support from BankUnited, Deutsche Bank, M&T Bank, and Santander Bank.