Harlem’s Black Churches Making Money from Gentrification

Churches are losing members but gaining profits from gentrification. 

Nearly two dozen churches have either closed or been sold to developers for more than $50 million over the last decade, according to a review by DNAinfo New York and Harlem historian Michael Henry Adams.

The churches often sell because of a combination of factors including dwindling memberships, high maintenance costs and the lure of millions of dollars from developers ready to buy in Harlem.

More than half of the $53.1 million came from a single church — LaGree Baptist Church which sold for $28.5 million in 2016, records show.

Adams, who has tracked church sales since 2004, sees this trend as a symptom of gentrification and expects churches to continue selling.

“Their days are numbered” said Adams.

To identify closed, sold or threatened churches, DNAinfo supplemented Adams’ research with court records, public property records, demolition permits and news reports.

Black churches, once powerful cultural institutions in Harlem, have slowly been losing relevance for decades, said Clarence Taylor, a retired professor from Baruch College who wrote a book about the involvement of churches in urban areas.

“These traditional churches have been losing membership drastically,” Taylor said. “You go back to the 1950s, some of the biggest institutions were black churches, the pastors were politically prominent figures.”

Taylor pointed out Congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr. as an example of a Harlem pastor who came out of a politically powerful church. But churches have slowly lost their political relevance to groups like the National Action Network in the 1990s and the Black Lives Matter movement today, he said.

Click here to read more

Source: DNA Info / Gustavo Solis