SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — On hundreds of San Francisco streets, epic edifices are showing their age. Inside, Sunday gatherings are growing smaller while outside, the numbers of people seeking shelter are growing larger.
“In San Francisco we were very, very concerned that we do our part. We couldn’t be part of the whining majority,” Michael Pappas the Executive Director of the Interfaith Council of San Francisco said.
Pappas says most interfaith councils are born out of crises and that the state of housing in the region is stirring up some Christian guilt.
“We were sitting on some of the most valuable and underutilized property in the city and that we had a moral obligation, to help respond,” Pappas said.
The building department identified 800 properties in the city owned by religious organizations that are underutilized and could soon be developed for affordable housing.
“It’s a way for a parish not to maximize its revenue, but to maximize its mission,” said University of San Francisco President Father Paul Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald jumped at this concept back in 2014 when the university had the opportunity to convert a convent.
“Well, it’s certainly a shame to just let it sit empty and idle,” Fitzgerald said.
Now, that convent houses third year law school student Ryan Cockerton and 40 of his classmates. His rent is free because he’s an RA, but other students pay between $1,100 to $1,400 a month.
Of the 800 properties identified, only a few have actually started to move forward with the process. Some congregations aren’t ready to let go of their buildings just yet and others worry contractors won’t act in good faith.
“Land grabs are land grabs and we’re in a very precarious time,” Pappas said.
“These are church communities they don’t do real estate typically,” said Peter Cohen, co-director of the Council of Community Housing Organizations.
Cohen’s nonprofit helps faith leaders navigate the sticky parts of redevelopment in San Francisco. He points out that Proposition E, which passed in November, streamlines reviews for affordable housing on public land, which could kick start the process.
“There’s little pots of money to do this so the ingredients are starting to line up,” Cohen said. “I think the question is how do we get it started? And one church community or two church communities could really show the way.”
“We’re all in this together and there are many ways in which we can continue to read the signs of the times and then respond appropriately in new ways to do good,” Fitzgerald said.
Most religious organizations are focusing on what they call workforce housing: housing for teachers, first responders, or bus drivers who cannot afford to live in San Francisco.