The popular trend of church-to-condo conversions began in the 1980s, said Carrie Georgitsis, the Redfin real estate agent who worked with Buera and Babus on their house hunt. Over time, the appeal became more popular, especially in the Lakeview and Lincoln Park neighborhoods…
Church-to-home conversions mirror the ever-changing needs of the community. Very often, a congregation will sell its church building because the congregation dwindled, forcing remaining members to consolidate into a smaller space since they can no longer maintain the large structure, Georgitsis said.Chicago’s increase in church conversions over the years reflects the religious direction of the United States in general. According to a 2014 Pew Research survey, the percentage of adults who described themselves as Christians dropped nearly 8 points from 78.4 percent to 70.6 percent in just seven years. Over the same period, the percentage of Americans who identified as religiously unaffiliated (describing themselves as agnostic, atheist or “nothing in particular”) jumped more than 6 points from 16.1 percent in 2007 to 22.8 percent in 2014.
“Studies show that the long-term church attendance in America is on the decline,” said Bill Skubik, president of Religious Real Estate, a Waterford, Mich.-based real estate agency that specializes in religious properties. “I tell pastors all the time, ‘You may be able to afford to buy the building, but who is going to pay the utility bills? You’ve got maintenance and utilities that are expensive.'” The decline of churchgoers reflects the changing needs of communities, Skubik said. And, as a result, church buildings are left abandoned or sold.
In Chicago, churches in residential areas can be converted into homes without any zoning ramifications. “Generally, many older churches were zoned for residential use, so it’s a relatively seamless process,” said Peter Strazzabosco, a deputy commissioner for Chicago’s Department of Planning and Development. Developers only need to worry about zoning codes in terms of the number of units and parking lots they plan to build, he said.
I find two things interesting about this story. First, this is presented as a story of supply and demand. In neighborhoods with tighter housing markets, developers and buyers are willing to pursue residences made out of former churches. Yet, the opening story in the article presents a couple who like the unique features of the unit. What if church buildings become desirable now just because there are not enough units available but because of their aesthetic charm and/or sacred architecture?
Second, the journalist suggests there is a trend toward more church conversions. But, are there any numbers to back this up? Do we know how many times this has been done? In the past, would developers bulldoze the unused church buildings rather than convert them?
Perhaps we will know if this is really a trend when new condos and single-family residences deliberately incorporate church-like features into their architecture and design.