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Membership Declines, Costly Upkeep Force Religious Organizations To Put Houses Of Worship On The Market

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A rising number of religious institutions in New York are fighting to sell their houses of worship in a search for revenue.

Church, Religious Institutions

Take the 100-year-old synagogue on Manhattan’s Upper West Side on West 93rd Street, for example. While one group of neighbors is fighting to preserve the historic building, the congregation that uses it is trying to sell to a developer that will convert the building into high-rise condos, the New York Times reports.

The name of the game is profit. Congregations are suffering from shrinking attendance that has led to a severe drop in the donations they receive to maintain and upkeep their buildings. In turn, these organizations are looking to sell their properties, which are often their most valuable assets. In New York alone last year, 165 petitions were filed to sell buildings owned by religious institutions and already this year roughly 124 petitions were filed. These petitions have to be approved by the state attorney general before the buildings can hit the market. 

Besides arguments of historic preservation, many critics fear repurposing the properties would lead to space constraints and overcrowding. But judges are often siding with the property owners rather than concerned neighbors. New York State Supreme Court Justice Debra James told those opposing the sale of a 180-year-old synagogue to a developer, which plans to revamp it into a condo, that the transaction did not concern them — especially since none of them were members of the congregation. 

“Your opposition, as sincere as it might be, is really absolutely irrelevant,” James said.