By Opportunity Zone Magazine Staff

Los Angeles-based law firm GriggsLittle is launching a new consortium aimed at connecting investors and developers with churches that own underdeveloped real estate in inner-city Opportunity Zones.

The new initiative, dubbed the Faith-Based Community Opportunity Fund, won’t raise money directly, but will instead broker connections between church leaders and OZ-minded developers.

“It’s an effort to connect church leaders who have underdeveloped or undeveloped land with interested business owners or developers,” says GriggsLittle partner Marc T. Little. “We’re really a conduit between those who want to develop their land, and those who want to go into these communities and benefit from Opportunity Zones.”

Church leaders have historically been wary of government-led development efforts, but the OZ program offers a way for faith leaders to leverage private capital to benefit their congregations and their communities, Little says.

“I believe folks who’ve been sitting on the fence will get off and identify opportunities where they have parking lots that could be turned into residential developments,” he says.

With church attendance declining, faith leaders increasingly see underused real estate as a potential source of revenue, and the Archdiocese of Boston recently inked a lucrative deal to turn its cathedral parking lot into condos and retail spaces. Such deals can help churches to reshuffle their facilities portfolio, generate an influx of cash, and help their neighborhoods, according to Nina Janopaul, president of the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing.

“They see this as a win-win — they can right-size their facilities to the size of their congregation and serve their mission at the same time,” she explained.

Little says he’s received a warm response from both church leaders and OZ developers. He anticipates GriggsLittle playing a key role in helping OZ developers to navigate the byzantine world of church politics, and to sell their vision to pastors and church elders in OZs around the country.

“If you don’t understand church leadership and politics, what looks like an easy deal can become very complicated,” Little says. “You have to understand how to talk, and how to deliver the message of economic prosperity — and that’s where we come in.”