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People Staff
December 30, 2015 11:00 PM

A congregation in Arlington, Virginia has opted to sell their church building and grounds to a nonprofit that will use the land to build affordable housing.

The Arlington Presbyterian Church began looking for ways renew its mission and reconnect with its neighborhood in 2012, The Washington Post reports. Members of the church set out on this mission by asking around their neighborhood of Columbia Pike to learn what its residents worried about most.

They heard the same concern again and again – gentrification was pushing working class residents out of their homes. It was a growing trend that congregants themselves had begun to worry about

“[My wife and I] really love our neighborhood, its diversity, its walkability, the history, and the people,” Miles Townes, a member of the church said at a community meeting, ARLnow reports. “We’re concerned some of our neighbors are not able to live in our neighborhood anymore, and we plainly see that the need for affordable housing is growing on the Pike.”

So, the century-old congregation opted to sell their church site below market value to the Arlington Partnership for Affordable housing, a non-profit that will build 173 affordable apartments. The church plans to rent space on the ground floor of the building.

Still, Reverend Sharon Cole told the paper that the decision was far from easy.

“People have been married here, had their children baptized here and held memorial services for loved ones,” she said. “We had serious, serious discussions, and it s not something we did lightly. But we know in our heart of hearts the church is not the building. It is our faith and our people.”

Core added that some members left the church in the wake of the decision, particularly taxing on the congregation’s already diminished membership.

The church hopes the move will ensure its own continued existence and respond to the neighborhood’s growing housing crisis.

The new apartments will be named in honor of Ronda Gilliam, the church’s first African American member who founded a clothing donation program in the early 1960s.

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