Meeting High Cost of Housing Congregations

The high cost of real estate in Orange County is not only pricing people out of homes but out of houses of worship as well.

Some congregations that could afford to build a church or synagogue almost any place else in the country cannot scrape together enough from members to buy land for a church, much less build one.

The problem is not a new one here. But it keeps growing, leaving congregations, except for the most wealthy, to find imaginative alternatives. Some have.


Some “homeless” congregations meet in schools. A few hold services in warehouses and industrial buildings. One meets in a bowling alley. And some take the condominium approach, joining together to build and share facilities no one congregation can afford alone.

Others just wait, hoping for a favorable turn of events. But so far, the prospect of finding affordable church housing continues to get worse, not better.

One answer to congregations’ prayers could be enlightened land developers. Another could be local government. Both must realize the value of providing for the spiritual as well as economic growth of the community and be sure churches and synagogues are part of any planning process.

That in no way means government should give religion special treatment. That would without doubt raise valid constitutional questions regarding the separation of church and state. About 10 years ago a group of ministers, frustrated at being unable to find church sites they could afford in the county, drafted a petition to the County Board of Supervisors and city councils, asking for regulations that would require developers to set aside church sites in choice locations in their new projects. The request was wisely rejected.

But local government can do what Anaheim appropriately and wisely did when it revised its zoning laws to allow churches to locate in industrial and lower-rent areas. Churches in Irvine, Santa Ana and Placentia were able to persuade their city councils to do the same. Other cities could follow suit.

And developers could give even greater consideration--and discounts--on land for churches and synagogues. Houses of worships add too much to the fabric of community life to be priced or zoned out of existence.