While perusing my Twitter feeds, I paused at an interesting article about a growing trend in affordable housing. Churches are taking on the lack of affordable housing themselves by raising money to build low-rent apartments. Church involvement in affordable housing development is not new by far, it’s getting more popular. First, federal and city funding incentives are making the process significantly easier. Second, the lack of housing has become a serious enough problem that people are finally really getting pissed.
But what better way than through the church? There are plenty of people, steady money streams, and easily gained public support (I’m sure a good sermon will rile the people enough to open their wallets, volunteer, and pledge their time). Being a community center, a church also makes a great spot to gauge community interest and the specific needs of the local area.
It is fantastic that churches are spearheading development for the poor, but there is one small, overlooked detail: churches are not development companies. As such, they will need to outsource most of the planning for new developments. That means that unless a church or its congregation specifically address the issue of community vitality, developers may simply continue to plan closed-off apartment complexes, buildings that turn away from the streets and promote empty space rather than popular streets. Sure, a park will solve that problem. It is vital that vitality be a part of affordable housing design. It should be built-in. Why not?
I still applaud the progress. There are dark areas of the city which badly need residents, businesses, and entertainment uses. As the author of the article said, “even the local McDonald’s is vacant.” Yeah, that’s pretty bad.