Addressing the housing crisis in your own hometown may sound like a daunting challenge. Not for Pastor L.J. Jennings. Born, raised, and proudly immersed in the Oakland community he loves as a church leader and non-profit leader, Pastor Jennings is on a mission to help his neighbors and congregation in need by building affordable housing on church owned properties. Kingdom Builders is one of these transformative properties.
When Pastor Jennings came to Housing Trust Silicon Valley last spring seeking funds to acquire the 7954 MacArthur Boulevard property adjacent to the Kingdom Builders Christian Fellowship Church, we saw his vision and were inspired. We were excited to have the opportunity to provide $660,000 in early financing to help purchase the .2-acre lot.
Located in the Eastmont neighborhood of Oakland, the Kingdom Builders project will construct a new 40-unit, five-story building. The plan is to provide affordable homes for low-income community members who are seniors, formerly homeless veterans, and people with special needs. The site will include a community area, storage, and 40 parking spaces.
Community Housing Development Corporation (CHDC) will be a co-developer for this project, while the non-profit organization where Pastor Jennings is President, Bay Area Community Benefit Organization (BACBO), is providing consulting services. BACBO is also working on several other future affordable housing projects for development.
Fixing the lack of affordable housing in Oakland isn’t the only goal for BACBO and Pastor Jennings. Gentrification and displacement, and dwindling church memberships and revenues, are also hot issues that the Kingdom Builders project and other BACBO developments are aiming to address.
“When we look at our communities and the changing landscape, the buzzword is this notion of gentrification,” said Pastor Jennings. “I’ve recoined it. Gentrification is the white man’s word –displacement is what is happening to the BIPOC community. The demographics shows it, the data shows it. If we look at the broader housing arena, we have to be cognizant of the fact that what’s really happening at the end of the day is that more and more of our folks are being displaced.”
To help faith-based communities solve dwindling revenue and an exodus of members, Pastor Jennings explains, “How do we replace the plates? By really repurposing church owned land, whether it’s an old school building, part of a property we don’t need anymore, a surplus parking lot, or leveling something and putting up something new, that’s the birth of BACBO,” explains Pastor Jennings. “This is the whole vision of what we’re doing collectively.”
BACBO is a 501c3 faith-based consortium of diverse faith groups throughout Alameda County. Formed in 2017, they are an influential voice in Bay Area government and economic development. BACBO works with faith-based community entities of all sizes, in the area of social service delivery and community development. Their focus is to build effective sustainable ministries that have measurable impact on improving outcomes for individuals and families in Alameda County.
“When we look at our communities and the changing landscape, the buzzword is this notion of gentrification . . . I’ve recoined it. Gentrification is the white man’s word – displacement is what is happening to the BIPOC community . . . we have to be cognizant of the fact that what’s really happening at the end of the day is that more and more of our folks are being displaced.”– Pastor L.J. Jennings, President, Bay Area Community Benefit Organization (BACBO)
CHDC is an affordable housing developer founded in 1990 with an approach to community development that engages residents at the grassroots level and ensures that the whole neighborhood benefits from the affordable housing and neighborhood services they provide. Headed by Executive Director Donald Gilmore, who is also a dedicated East Bay community leader, CHDC builds housing, provides services and economic development programs to its residents, and also manages a homeownership program.
Kingdom Builders will be the third collaborative affordable housing development that BACBO will have built in Oakland. In the works are six more affordable housing developments on church owned properties throughout Alameda County. In addition, Phase 2 of the Kingdom Builders project is already being planned, with another building that would be constructed across the street. This would provide even more affordable housing for the community.
Pastor Jennings is no stranger to the housing industry and development. In addition to being a faith-based leader with a powerful vision to improve his beloved community, he is also a REALTOR® who has been helping his community buy and sell homes for more than 30 years.
At Housing Trust, we recognize that it has been historically difficult for developers who are Black or Brown to access capital. We are committed to changing that history. As a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), we know that supporting developers from diverse backgrounds is transformative work—and will have a ripple effect on the communities that they serve—whether it is faith-based members, veterans, people experiencing homelessness, formerly incarcerated individuals, people with developmental challenges, people who have overcome addiction, or families struggling to provide for their kids.
We are immensely proud of the partnership with Pastor Jennings, BACBO, and CHDC, and look forward to watching this project get off the ground. Even more so, we can’t wait to meet our new neighbors when they move in.
Photo Credit: Adhiti Bandlamudi