Growing Number of Churches Expanding Their Services to Provide Affordable Housing
BY JEANINE RAMIREZ
The Church of God of East Flatbush has operated out of a building on East 95th Street in Brooklyn for more than 40 years. But at 9,000-square-feet, the building is now too small for the congregation’s needs.
"The space is surely an issue," said the pastor of Church of God of East Flatbush R.C. Hugh Nelson.
Now, a new church with 40,000-square-feet is rising about a mile away in Brownsville. The development is not just a new sanctuary that’s being built, but 531 units of affordable housing are being created, too.
"We began to explore opportunities how can we not only expand the worship space and our operational space but how can we also address the needs of our community and we knew that housing was one," Pastor Nelson said.
The church bought two city blocks along Hegeman Street seven years ago for $8 million and won zoning changes for the the massive project. When completed, it will be called Ebenezer Plaza and include retail too.
"That has been a learning curve for us, obviousl We are pastors, so we were trained to address spiritual issues," said Pastor Nelson.
He said he took a leap of faith to get into the real estate business and teamed up with a developer, Brisa Builders, and a title insurance company that specializes in helping faith-based groups through the bureaucracy.
"We have to facilitate some documents and certain processes to help them achieve the approvals of the attorney general, as well as just understanding all of the bits and pieces of moving parts," said Osei Rubie, the owner of National Standard Abstract Title Insurance Company.
As a developing partner, the church will receive revenue from the project to support its mission. Brisa Builders said more churches around the city are engaging in these kinds of real estate deals.
"Currently in our pipeline we have about 1,100 units of affordable housing, all with faith-based organizations and they’re providing affordable housing on some level," said Brisa Builders CEO Ericka Keller.
Pastor Nelson said this development will breathe new life into the community and his church, which he said has 1,600 members.
The pastor said he plans to open the doors to his new church in 2020.