News and Views

Silver Spring UMC moves forward with affordable housing partners

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Silver Spring United Methodist Church announced its partners in an effort to build affordable housing in the downtown Silver Spring area at a special service Feb. 7. 

Enterprise Community Partners — a large affordable housing development firm — was celebrated at the ceremony. Other partners include NFP, a county local developer, and Wiencek & Associates, an architectural firm with experience in affordable housing production and development. 

All of the organizations are nonprofits with commitments to addressing racial injustice and housing affordability, along with creating long-term partnerships, the Rev. Will Green of Silver Spring UMC said.

“This is a marathon, it's not a sprint,” Green said. “We pray for our Building Beloved Community Committee …  and for the neighbors who we believe will someday call this corner of Silver Spring home with us.” 

In June 2023, the congregation voted nearly unanimously to move forward with “building beloved community” by supporting the project. The project will include housing folks with a range of income levels, from workforce housing for those who make 120 percent of the area’s median income to supportive housing for people who experienced or are experiencing chronic homelessness. 

Some units will be available to purchase to allow families to build generational wealth. All told, Green believes it’s possible to develop 160 housing units.

Beyond affordable housing, the congregation is also dedicated to building a net zero development that has no environmental impact — or even better the environmental impact than with the church’s current facility.

The dive into affordable housing was the right move for a congregation facing a couple of issues within the church as well.

“The reality is that, as is true for most churches, we have more building than we have need for,” Green said.

Green added that the congregation was spending significant amounts of money — at times nearly 40 percent of its budget — just to keep the lights and the heat going.

Nevermind any longer term repairs or maintenance the building needed.

When Green first came to Silver Spring UMC, the building had $19 million worth of repairs required to keep the building in its current state. This also came at a time when the Baltimore-Washington Conference created a committee to help identify churches that could develop affordable housing on church property. 

The church’s location in downtown Silver Spring, near public transit and a large campus with a parking lot, made Silver Spring UMC a prime candidate. Plus, Green said, the congregation was looking for the “beloved community.”

“This church has always tended toward using its physical spaces to meet the community where it was — to provide the critical services the community needed to live as abundantly as Jesus desires for all of us,” Green said. “To do that in ways that promote equity and equality for all.” 

But to follow the example of Jesus, the church also had to confront prohibitive zoning laws.

Green said the congregation had dug deep into their history to “own the story” of their church — and how it played a role in racist zoning laws that created major gaps in generational wealth among Montgomery County residents.

“Because of our commitments to inequality, knowing that story gave us some extra zeal to do the hard work to begin to have the conversations necessary to confront those challenges,” Green said. 

After reaching out to government officials about what the church would need to do to achieve its affordable housing project, the Montgomery County Council passed the Facilitating Affordable Inclusive Transformational Housing Zoning Text Amendment.

The amendment worked to “reduce the burdens and increase the opportunities for new renters and even first-time home buyers to live in an area that would be unaffordable otherwise,” according to a fact sheet on the amendment. The change gives greater flexibility in Montgomery County zoning laws to houses of worship seeking to act on the affordable housing crisis

“We were able to initiate a conversation that led to favorable zoning text amendment in the county, not just for us, but for houses of worship and private educational facilities all across the county, who now have reduced barriers to the production of multiple affordable units on their campuses,” Green said.

And the crisis is worsening. Adults and children experiencing homelessness in Montgomery County in 2023 increased by 54 percent compared to 2022, according to a 2023 Point In Time survey to track homelessness. Up to 50 percent of county residents, Green said, are also living at or below the area median income, making them housing-burdened.

“If they're paying for housing, they're doing so in ways that disadvantage them from building wealth, from attending to their physical well-being and their emotional well-being,” Green said. “[It puts] them and their family at risk of becoming homeless when they experience any kind of financial emergency. So the housing situation is pretty dire.”

Fay Allen Apr 16, 2024 9:45am

So proud of Silver Spring UMC. Very supportive of this housing plan. That space is an ideal space for affordable multi-use housing Please do not leave out Seniors.