The city of Charlotte is trying to build more affordable homes and apartments for residents, but one of its main challenges has been finding land on which to build.
In response, churches around the city have been stepping forward with land, money and sometimes entire buildings that can be refashioned into affordable homes.
Among the latest is Caldwell Presbyterian Church in Charlotte’s Elizabeth neighborhood, which is making plans to convert an unused church building into 21 studio apartments over the next two years for people who have experienced homelessness and are very low-income.
The church’s pastor, Rev. Dr. John Cleghorn, said the building at 1615 East 5th St. has previously been used as a prayer room, a space for Sunday school, a homeless shelter for women, and as a home for the Charlotte Bilingual Preschool and the Charlotte Islamic School.
When the women’s homeless shelter moved to a more permanent space, Cleghorn said it “left a hole in the heart of this congregation,” and the church began exploring other options for the space.
Associate minister Rev. Gail Henderson-Belsito said it made sense to turn the building into affordable apartments to help shelter those in need.
“Our scripture, the word of God, tells us over and over again that we are responsible to care for those who are needy, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to visit the sick and imprisoned, and also to provide shelter for people who need shelter,” Henderson-Belsito said.
Once complete, each apartment will have a kitchen, a bathroom, a living space and a bedroom. Apartments will be available to people who have experienced homelessness and are making between 30-50% of the area’s median income — or about $17,000 to $35,000 a year, Cleghorn said. Residents will pay a third of their monthly income in rent.
The new apartments will be named Easter’s Home in honor of a woman named Easter who was enslaved by the Caldwell family, for whom the church is named, Cleghorn said.
Cleghorn said the congregation was still reckoning with its history, and that the building’s new name was one step in the church acknowledging that history and making amends. The church also liked the name for its spiritual connotations with resurrection and new life.
Churches across the city helping
Caldwell Presbyterian is one of at least ten local parishes, in addition to the Catholic Diocese of Charlotte, that have donated land, buildings or money to create affordable housing in partnership with the city of Charlotte.
Other parishes include St. Paul Baptist Church, which donated land for the Centra Square apartments in the Belmont neighborhood; The Park Church, which donated land for the Gilfield Park senior apartments on Beatties Ford Road; and Covenant Presbyterian Church, which donated $2 million toward construction of The Mezzanine at Freedom apartments on Freedom Drive.
In addition, Mayfield Memorial Missionary Baptist Church donated land for the Mayfield at Sugaree apartments; Little Rock A.M.E. Zion Church donated land for a soon-to-be-built apartment complex near uptown Charlotte, and a trio of churches — Myers Park Presbyterian Church, Antioch Missionary Baptist Church and Grier Heights Presbyterian Church — together loaned nearly $1 million to the Charlotte Mecklenburg Housing Coalition to purchase land in the Grier Heights neighborhood for affordable housing developments.
The Catholic Diocese of Charlotte has also contributed by overseeing the construction of the Mother Teresa Villa apartments for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities and the Guardian Angel Villa apartments for low-income seniors.
Caldwell Presbyterian also received a $1 million donation from its sister church, Myers Park United Methodist Church, for the project, in addition to grants from the city of Charlotte, Mecklenburg County, and the North Carolina Housing Finance Agency.
A ‘life changing’ church project
The city of Charlotte estimates nearly 35,000 units of affordable housing are needed, and Caldwell Presbyterian’s ministers acknowledged that 21 studio apartments might seem like a drop in the bucket.
However, Henderson-Belsito said each apartment would have an outsized impact on the lives of its future residents.
“For 21 people, it’s going to absolutely change their lives. It’s not 35,000, but for each one who comes in off the street, that’s life changing for them,” she said.
The church still needs to raise about $1 million to reach its $6 million goal, the ministers said. Then, the church hopes to start construction in late 2022 or early 2023 and open the apartments in 2024.
Cleghorn said he hoped the project would inspire more houses of worship to get involved in the effort to build more affordable housing in Charlotte.
“Churches have thousands of acres and dozens of buildings that are underutilized,” Cleghorn said. “We hope that this is a pilot project that will encourage houses of faith to look at what assets they have and to put them to work directly against this crisis that’s changing our city.”