Is church land part of the answer to Greenville’s affordable housing crisis? Some say yes.

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Photo by Jack Connolly

Faith communities in Greenville County own 5,270 acres, or about 8.25 square miles, of land.

There’s also an affordable-housing shortage in the county — more than 2,500 units in the city of Greenville and an additional 9,500 units outside the city’s boundaries.

Can the former help address the latter?

Yes, say members of JustFaith Greenville, an organization devoted to helping people put their faith into action to make Greenville a more compassionate place to live.

“We believe our churches and other communities of faith have a role in finding solutions,” said Susan Stall, one of the coordinators of a recent forum held at Augusta Heights Baptist Church.

Some churches already are, including Augusta Heights. When the church in 2010 proposed selling a portion of its property on Augusta Road — the site of its no-longer-needed parsonage — to an affordable-housing developer, some residents and business owners vehemently protested. They said the development wasn’t in keeping with the surrounding neighborhood, would generate too much traffic, and would lead to an increase in crime. Some formed a corporation, Preserve Augusta Road Gateway Inc., and filed a lawsuit to try to stop it.

Today, the 37-unit complex is an example of how affordable housing can blend into and become part of a community, said Dan Weidenbenner of JustFaith Greenville.

Allen Temple AME Church has constructed nearly 80 affordable rental homes in Greenville neighborhoods such as Judson, Southernside, Nicholtown, and Pleasant Valley, and in Pickens County.

“We traditionally have been the first into certain neighborhoods, and those neighborhoods change,” said the Rev. James Speed, Allen Temple’s pastor. “We’ve been instrumental in turning neighborhoods around.”

St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church buys, renovates, and rebuilds homes in the neighborhood surrounding the church for affordable housing. The church also helps seniors pay their rent when it increases.

St. Andrew Episcopal Church set aside money from a capital campaign to preserve 10 affordable homes in its community.

Jeff Randolph, president of TRG Communities, an affordable-housing developer, said that to create affordable housing, there has to be some type of subsidy, whether it be a donation of land where a house can be built or an investor who is willing to wait on a return.

All housing is subsidized housing, Speed said. The subsidy can come on the front end or the back end in the form of the mortgage interest deduction given to homeowners on their federal tax returns, he said.

Tammie Hoy-Hawkins, program coordinator for the Greenville Housing Fund established by the city in 2017 to address the affordable-housing shortage, said that when she worked in Charleston, some African-American congregations that were leaving the city’s core because residents were moving to less expensive neighborhoods built rental housing on their land. It served two purposes — as an income source for the church and to increase affordable housing for the city’s working class.

But Greenville and Greenville County are not going to be able to build their way out of the problem, said Bucky Tarleton, an affordable-housing advocate. Better education, jobs, and transportation are needed to attack the root of the problem, he said.

“The faith community is going to be very important in that because that’s what your faith is all about,” Tarleton said.

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