Then there’s the financing question. Banks are “hesitant to do business with churches for fear of default,” said Bishop R.C. Hugh Nelson, lead pastor at Ebenezer Urban Ministry Center in Brooklyn, who worked with Brisa Builders Corporation on Ebenezer Plaza, a project that includes 523 affordable apartments, 43,000 square feet of sanctuary and ministry space, and 21,000 square feet of commercial space in Brownsville.
And the development process itself requires stamina. Ebenezer Plaza took nearly a decade: The church had raised enough funds to purchase two city blocks in Brownsville in 2011 for $8.1 million, but the project was met with delays, including buying out 22 existing tenants, environmental remediation and a rezoning process. Construction workers broke ground in 2018, and residents were finally able to move in three years later.
IKAR, a Jewish community in West Los Angeles, is in the process of creating 60 apartments for older people who were formerly homeless. “We’re at Year 5, and by the time we’re done it could be six years,” said Brooke Wirtschafter, IKAR’s director of community organizing. “This is not an unusual timeline.”
In addition, “unscrupulous” people looking for deals may target faith-based organizations, assuming these organizations may not be real estate savvy, Bishop Nelson said, adding that he had heard horror stories from other pastors. Early in the development of Ebenezer Plaza, Bishop Nelson returned to school to attend an executive program focused on real estate development at Fordham University.
Richard King, 52, moved into a new apartment at Ebenezer Plaza last year after living on the streets and in shelters (where he won a housing lottery). He had been working a variety of jobs at a distribution warehouse but was injured in a motorcycle accident and uses a wheelchair.