Houses of Worship seem ubiquitous in New York City. Yet, many congregations are facing significant hardships while still providing vital services to the greater community. In some cases, gentrification is contributing to shrinking congregations, prompting developers to target existing faith properties, raising property tax bills, and perhaps drawing Department of Building’s attention to code violations. In other cases, congregations are simply struggling to pay their bills and maintain their properties because of overall lack of resources and disinvestment.
Our studio class worked with Bricks & Mortals (B+M), a membership organization comprised of individuals from both faith-based organizations and the development community to examine how best to help these organization navigate these difficult circumstances. While policy options differ according to neighborhood conditions, we found that market-driven real estate development is too limited to be useful to many struggling congregations. Housing development and air rights sales are restricted by market conditions and location, and may exacerbate gentrification. We also found that landmarking presents a significant burden to houses of worship looking to make physical adaptations.
Our studio found that FBOs are unique and the neighborhoods in which they are located have pronounced effects on their circumstances. Our studio’s alternative development scenarios and policy recommendations offer B+M a variety of ways to help FBOs engage their assets to ensure that faith properties thrive in the challenging real estate environment of New York City.