Brooklyn church provides community with affordable housing options

BROWNSVILLE, Brooklyn — What if God was your landlord? That's not quite the case, but as the need for affordable housing increases, more and more churches are getting into the real-estate game.

The Church of God in East Flatbush has served the community for almost 50 years. In that time the congregation has grown to more than 1,600 members forcing the church to double, sometimes triple the number of Sunday services or pack school auditoriums.

Bishop RC Hugh Nelson says the church has grown because of its role for the community is more than spirituality.

"There's a spiritual component of course, but beyond that it's about the welfare of the community," Nelson said.

When the church initially moved to their space in East Flatbush, it took a leap of faith because the congregation wasn't yet big enough to fill the building. But now that they've grown, they're ready to take a new leap for the future.

"We felt that we needed to go to the next level and that was to address some of the existential needs of the city and so affordable housing was on the major priority list," said Nelson.

So Nelson and the church joined a partnership to make the dream a reality.

After purchasing two city blocks in Brownsville, the group broke ground on Ebenezer Plaza. The new development will include 40,000 square feet for the church and more than 500 units of affordable housing.

"I think this is a tremendous project," said Ericka Keller, a member of Ebenezer Plaza Owners. "The fact that a church had two city blocks and they were willing to not only advance their own mission of a larger community facility where they could provide services but include affordable housing under the Mayor's housing initiative, I think is phenomenal."

Osei Rubie works at National Standard Abstract which specializes in helping faith-based developments. He says more and more religious organizations are getting into the real estate game.

"This trend is growing in such abundance because of the fact that churches like the Church of God in East Flatbush have these properties and parcels and are able to capitalize on it by monetizing it and providing affordable housing," Rubie said

The plans also call for 25,000 square feet of retail space. Since all church owned developments are considered public property, the entire plan had to be approved by the attorney general.

The project is scheduled for completion in 2020, but Nelson says seeing the progress has only strengthened his faith.

"It's a joy to see how far we've come," he said.