Do Some Churches Play A Role in Gentrification?

The church can play many roles in a community, depending upon its focus. Given the history of Harlem as a Black neighborhood, one would presume that the churches that have its residents as congregants would not work against their economic interests. With residents more and more concerned about the lack of affordable housing and further gentrification, we have at least one religious institution that seems to be in on the take. The famous Abyssinia Baptist Church has been making the news recently regarding the sale of the Pathmark in East Harlem.As people know, the non-profit, development branch of the church known as the Abyssinian Development Corporation under the leadership of Calvin Butts sold the store to Extell Development Co. This transaction has resulted in some consequences for the neighborhood the supermarket served. City Council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito went so far as to day that Abyssinian through the community under the bus.

Of course, understandably some Harlem residents are not so quick to criticize the actions of the ADC. Considering the historical role of Abyssinian in the community, it is regarded as a progressive agent of change. However, when these changes are at odds with the existing neighborhood, its a bit difficult to overlook. As things began to shift in Harlem decades ago, there emerged a strata of respected individuals who embraced the change, telling us all that it would be good for the community. Now that many of the bigger corporations and monied interests have established a toehold in this shifting neighborhood, it could be said that there is not much more use for the familiar Black intermediates. Such is the way of economic exploitation.

Considering the information we have in front of us from the two articles in the link, is it fair to say that some churches do play a role in gentrification? While some religious institutions do not occupy the same space of the major agents of gentrification such as realty companies and banks, they can behave as junior partners in a sense. Should we turn a blind eye to this reality, citing the progressive history of the church in our community? What say you?



  1. There were those of ” the Coalition to Save Harlem” and of those of “the Preservation to save Harlem” ( from Columbia Univ bite) all were warned of what was forseen. We warned that is was not fear of change that motivated us but that the changes were not being done for our living there afterwards. We warned of churches allowing apts being built on their roofs and all the remodeling being carried out along the corridors of Marcus Garvey Park as an indication that even the church members could not find Sunday parking for services.
    And whoever named butts’ church “Progressive” must have a myopic condition. Never forget he & tangle walked Hillary into Harlem as a choice fro Pres and had to back that up.
    Now we see the smoke and mirrors part and as Dr Ben pointed out butts very name when told his educational sessions would have to stop in the basement of Abyssinian, the warnings to Harlem are played out. GOOD PENNING MARC.

  2. Many Harlem residents saw this coming. Unfortunately, the process is well into so many phases. Thanks for your commentary, Agnes.

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