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Multi-faith partnerships can drive the future of affordable housing

The short and long-term impacts of the pandemic underscore the importance of solving New York’s housing crisis, but it also made it more challenging.

It did not just exacerbate housing insecurity for millions of New Yorkers across the state. It also put new financial constraints on local municipalities and on New York State itself that will make financing the policies needed to stimulate the development, maintenance, and preservation of affordable housing stock a more difficult task.

Creative solutions are needed to provide relief to New Yorkers in need of a more affordable home. One promising partnership in New York lies at the intersection of the affordable housing industry and multi-faith coalitions who are developing and maintaining housing on properties owned by religious institutions.

Many local multi-faith organizations, including the Interfaith Assembly on Homelessness and Housing and the New York State Council of Churches, are already doing the work. They and their members capitalize on City and State programs and initiatives to turn underutilized land into affordable housing. The potential is huge: there are tens of thousands of units across the five boroughs at stake.

A partnership makes sense for several reasons. First, many religious institutions are in dire financial straits and are seeking ways to generate revenue in the post-COVID world. That makes many open to considering development on their land. Second, developing affordable housing on religious land is consistent with a mission of serving the vulnerable.

That is why we are seeing a rise in this activity across the nation. This partnership is not just limited to New York. A recent story in Bloomberg noted that religious groups across the United States are looking to develop affordable housing. In fact, religious groups are one of the largest landowners in the United States – land that San Diego’s Yes in God’s Backyard believes “is supposed to be for the services of the vulnerable.”

Back home in New York, as Marc Greenberg and the Rev. Peter Cook wrote in a recent op-ed, religious leaders “see the impact of the housing crisis every day”, with their parishioners suffering “under the weight of soaring rents and unequal access to housing.” As community leaders and servants, they wish to ease those struggles and can partner with our industry to do so.

Reverend Cook’s group is the organizer of the “Who is My Neighbor” teach-in series, where the Council hosts seminars across New York that work with parishioners to draw on theological foundations to find opportunities to create affordable housing. The New York State Association for Affordable Housing is proud to play a role in supporting these sessions.

The next step will be for policymakers at every level to further cultivate these initiatives as our industry continues to work with willing faith-based partners. By continuing to work with a broad coalition of capable partners, we can help deliver the housing New Yorkers need.

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