New grant will help put affordable housing options on church properties

DENVER — Low-income families have a higher power looking out for them.

A new grant received by the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado and Radian could get dirt moving on new affordable housing units on congregation property.

"It just so happens that congregations own land, which is one of the big bottlenecks, both in cost and just the scarcity of land, to actually creating more affordable housing," said Nathan Davis Hunt, the director of economic justice for the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado.

The $419,000 grant won’t go to churches or developers. It will help the Congregation Land Campaign to research, work on community engagement and do all the behind the scenes work that is needed to get projects on "land owned by faith communities" shovel ready.

"It takes, often, three to four years, before you break ground on any affordable housing project," said Hunt. "It takes a lot of work to figure out, ‘well, how do we do this land deal to ensure this doesn’t just turn into luxury housing 10 years from now?’"

Currently, 50 affordable housing units are being built behind Elevation Christian Church near Alameda Avenue and Chambers Road in Aurora.

Six homes are being built on the property of United Church of Christ in Longmont.

Six homes are being built on the property of United Church of Christ in Longmont.

"A lot of these congregations have been mowing it for 50 years, maybe they play soccer on it every now and then, maybe they thought they were going to be a megachurch someday, that’s not happened and they’re stepping back and thinking how do we better steward our resources," said Hunt.

Near downtown Denver, an apartment complex was built in the parking lot shared by Argonaut Liquor near 14th Avenue and Washington Street. Why? The land is actually owned by Saint John’s Cathedral on the other side of 14th Avenue. The land for the Saint Francis Apartments at Cathedral Square is being leased for $1 per year.

"These churches are often putting up their land for no cost to help make affordable housing happen," said Hunt.

So, how does a developer benefit?

The developer doesn’t get any of the grant money. According to one top managers of Blueline Development, which is doing the Aurora project, developers benefit from tax credits that are sold to investors. The developer gets paid as they meet certain project goals and can receive reimbursement for costs. The investors get to claim the property and the depreciation of that property on their own tax returns.

With the new grant money, the goal is to build 330 new units of permanently affordable homes throughout Colorado.

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