Task Force on Clergy Housing Report
Submitted by: AnnaMarie Hoos
Submitted to: the 174th Diocesan Convention
The 173rd Convention of the Diocese of California established as an urgent priority the challenge of providing housing for clergy faced by many congregations of the diocese. It charged the Executive Council with proposing to the 174th Convention steps for short and long-term plans to address clergy housing needs. It also amended the resolution to say that the proceeds from any sale of church property should be considered for use towards providing clergy housing.
The Executive Council appointed a task force that met several times in 2023. The task force assessed current challenges to and identified mechanisms for providing housing both within the diocese and in other dioceses around the Episcopal church.
The Diocese of California comprises 71 congregations. Of these, 29 hold space for clergy housing. Three congregations were identified as having the capacity to convert part of their existing property into housing. Another congregation with clergy housing in use was identified as being able to convert the housing into two units for an associate. Twenty-five units were identified as having clergy living in them.
Of the 29 congregations with clergy housing, five communities had two housing units, and one congregation had four. This creates a total of 38 units of housing. Four units were being rented out to sextons or other lay church employees. Eight units have been used for rentals for non-church employees, providing revenue towards church operations.
The Diocese of California has 368 canonically resident clergy: 2 bishops, 289 priests, 77 deacons.
A Summary of the Clergy Housing Survey Results
The results of the clergy housing survey reveal that housing and ensuring clergy access to adequate housing are complicated issues without a one-size-fits-all solution. Instead, the survey responses indicate the need to address housing availability and affordability by offering options based on the cleric’s needs, housing costs, housing availability, and available congregational and diocesan resources.
One key finding: most clergy would rather not live in church-provided housing if they could be paid a housing stipend above their annual compensation to make it easier to afford a housing unit in the marketplace. However, paying an additional stipend may not be an adequate solution in locations where the cost of a modest family-sized condominium far exceeds what clergy can be expected to afford, even with a supplemental housing stipend. Other solutions, however, could help clergy purchase housing, including in higher-cost areas. One cleric mentioned a loan that the Diocese made for a down payment, making it possible to buy a home. Other clergy referenced an “equity share,” where the cleric and the church participated in purchasing the house and share in its equity. Various creative solutions were identified, including multi-family housing, like that developed at All Souls, in Berkeley, or finding other ways to build housing units in underutilized buildings. Standardizing pay across churches, regardless of size, was also offered as a solution to housing affordability.
The survey did not focus on the housing needs of bivocational priests, deacons, or lay employees. One respondent asked that we conduct a similar study for the clergy that the church least supports financially – deacons and bivocational priests. The needs of lay employees also need to be considered to ensure our churches can continue to attract people to serve in critical lay positions. We hope the ongoing work connected with housing availability and affordability will look at the needs and challenges these other groups face. That work, however, was beyond the scope of this task force’s charge, but it is no less important than the work we have already undertaken.
An additional finding of this survey is that there appear to be potential iniquities in our clergy compensation system that cannot be fully revealed by the limited compensation data that the Diocese currently publishes. For example, two out of eleven priests living in church-provided housing receive a “housing equity allowance,” setting aside an amount of up to 10% of their income to offset the lack of opportunity to build equity in a home. This is a benefit paid in addition to annual compensation. Knowing that some priests receive this benefit could aid congregations and applicants as they consider what terms to include in a letter of agreement to make attracting and retaining clergy easier. Additionally, four out of ten priests living in church-provided housing reported that they saw no reduction in their annual compensation, even though the diocesan compensation guidelines allow for up to a 30% reduction when housing is provided; one of the ten saw a reduction of up to 10% of their income; and the remaining five saw a decrease of between 20% and 30% of their income. Our survey did not reveal the full scope of these potential inequities. Some potential inequities may be addressed over time through more transparency, such as by making standard Letter of Agreement templates available to clergy in the search and contract negotiation process. We recognize that housing is a complicated issue, and what the diocese should do next is an open question that we leave for the Bishop, the Standing Committee, the Executive Council, and the Convention of this diocese. But we on the Clergy Housing Task Force strongly encourage the diocese to identify and find ways to support a suite of options for making housing more available, more accessible, and more affordable to the clergy, and incorporate these into the resources provided to congregations and clergy as part of the hiring process for all clergy.
Additionally, responders to the survey indicated a desire to open a conversation among diocesan staff and the clergy of the diocese about the realities of housing in the Bay Area to seek collaborative solutions.
A Profile of the Responders
We received 48 responses. Nearly 70% of responders described themselves as a dean, vice-dean, rector, vicar, or priest-in-charge; approximately 15% identified as associate clergy, and about 15% identified as “other” salaried clergy.
Most clergy responding to the survey did not live in church-provided housing. Only 19.6% reported living in a rectory or other church-provided housing; 76.1% said living in housing they own or rent; one reported living with a family member; and one reported living in housing they co-own with the church where they are employed.
Approximately 54% of responders indicated that they live in the community where they serve; 42.6% responded that they did not live in the community where they serve. Responders’ commute times vary: no commute or a commute of up to 15 minutes (44.7%); between 15 and 30 minutes (27.7%); between 30 and 60 minutes (19.1%); and over one hour (8.5%). One person commutes by public transit, 77.5% commute by automobile, and 20% commute by bicycle or other mode.
Overall Satisfaction, But Potential Compensation Disparities, Among Clergy Living in Church-Provided Housing
Ten out of eleven priests (~91%) living in church-provided housing described it as adequate for their household’s current and future needs. One described the housing as inadequate, noting that it was insufficient to start a future family.
Although the compensation guidelines of the Diocese allow a reduction of up to 30% of annual compensation when housing is provided, four out of ten priests (40%) living in church-provided housing reported seeing no reduction in their yearly compensation; one of the ten (10%) said a reduction of up to 10% of annual compensation; and the remaining five (50%) reported a drop of between 20% and 30% of their yearly salary.
The survey revealed other compensation disparities. Two out of eleven priests (~18%) living in church-provided housing receive a “housing equity allowance” above their annual compensation. For them, their churches set aside up to 10% of their income to offset the lack of opportunity to build equity in a home. Often, this compensation is paid into a retirement account or other designated account to ensure it accumulates over the priest’s career.
A Clear Preference for Owning or Renting, particularly if a Housing Stipend is Provided
When those not living in church-provided housing were asked whether they would want to live in church-provided housing, 35.7% said “no,” 7.1% said “yes,” and 45.2% said it would depend on any of several factors, including the size, quality, and location of the housing unit; the proximity to the church where the person serves; whether it was adequate for a spouse’s or partner’s needs; and whether it met other family and household needs, among many other factors cited.
However, when all clergy – those living in church-provided housing and those living in other housing – were asked whether they would prefer either to live in church-provided housing or a housing stipend that helped afford to purchase or rent a unit available in the marketplace, a clear majority (60.9%) preferred an additional housing stipend. Only two people (4.3%) chose to continue living in church-provided housing, and 34.8% said their answer would depend on several factors. These factors included proximity to the church and location, the size and quality of the housing, and issues with having appropriate personal space boundaries.
There was a strong preference for dedicating resources to making it easier for clergy to own or rent housing available in the marketplace rather than developing housing units for clergy. However, an acknowledgment was that the local housing market may determine the best approach. One responder doubted that any church could pay clergy enough to afford to purchase the average-priced three-bedroom, two-bath condominium in San Francisco. In certain areas where housing is exceedingly expensive, church-provided housing or another housing solution may be needed.
Less Interest in Multi-Family Housing Reserved for Clergy
Only 29.5% of responses indicated that they would find a unit (apartment or condominium) in a multi-family housing development reserved for clergy to be adequate for their housing needs; 20.5% said such housing would not be adequate; and 50% responded that whether that housing would be sufficient would depend on several factors. These factors include size, location, number of bedrooms, parking availability, neighborhood characteristics, school proximity, and spouse/partner employment.
Several Creative Solutions Were Identified
We asked whether responders knew of any other creative solutions to housing affordability. One responder pointed out that the issue is less about housing and more about pay. This responder felt that the Diocese should begin to evaluate whether clergy pay could be standardized across churches, regardless of size.
Another responder offered that when they purchased a home, their congregation shared in the purchase and acquired an equity share in the house. This allowed the priest to buy a home; over time, the church was repaid for its contribution to the purchase price. The concept of an equity share, or joint ownership, was mentioned by several other responders. Similarly, one priest mentioned down payment assistance provided by the Diocese in the form of a loan. This allowed the cleric to purchase a home, and the loan was eventually repaid with interest.
Some churches have been able to develop housing on their property. One responder pointed to Jordan Court at All Souls in Berkeley as a model that may be achievable for some congregations. Under that model, some units are reserved for the church and its staff – a benefit that may help attract clergy and lay employees to high-cost areas.
Other responders indicate that they had, or could develop, units on church property. One cited having two classrooms that could be converted to clergy housing. Another church rents out a housing unit to a DioCal priest at a below-market rate.
Finally, one responder indicated that housing could be a focus of planned giving. Churches could encourage donating housing or resources to help develop housing.
A Need to Engage in Dialogue to Better Understand Our Realities
One responder encouraged a conversation among clergy and diocesan leadership about housing realities and challenges. Another responder stated that some resources should be used to bring the Diocese and its clergy to a common understanding about what it means for clergy to survive in the Bay Area. This responder indicated that clergy earn school employee salaries. That may not be the case in every area of the Diocese. Nevertheless, the truth expressed in that statement is that clergy are not paid wages that have kept up with housing costs throughout the Bay Area.
It was acknowledged that the lack of accessible, affordable housing has significantly impacted search processes throughout the Diocese, and housing costs continue to impact families and households of clergy who have been called to serve in this Diocese. Many stated that qualified people refuse to apply for open positions because of the housing realities in the Diocese. Others indicated they would not have accepted a call if housing hadn’t been included. One suggested that many congregations do not grasp the significant challenge housing presents in attracting qualified clergy to this area. Indeed, one responder knew of two search processes that struggled due to a lack of housing.
WAYS OF SUPPORTING CLERGY HOUSING
In the Wider Church:
● The congregation rents the apartment for the staff/clergy person as part of their compensation.
● The diocese holds a fund that gives loans to clergy to help them buy a home.
● Houses that had been converted into administration buildings or offices being renovated and converted back into housing units that could be rented or provided to clergy.
● Clergy housing being included as part of the re-development of church property, sometimes as part of a larger affordable housing project.
● The congregation paying a housing stipend above annual compensation to allow the cleric to purchase or rent a housing unit of their choice available in the marketplace.
● The congregation paying a priest living in church-provided housing a “housing equity allowance” above annual compensation to offset their inability to accumulate home equity Over the cleric’s career, these funds accumulate to help purchase a housing unit after retirement or whenever the cleric stops living in church-provided housing. (This is commonly included in letters of agreement and compensation packages in other regions of the US.)
● The congregation participates with the cleric in purchasing the home of the cleric’s choice. The congregation contributes to the purchase price while taking an “equity share” in the house in proportion to its contribution. Upon sale, both the cleric and the church share in the sale proceeds.
● The diocese standardizes salaries across congregations without regard to size.
● The diocese or the congregation provides down payment assistance through a low-interest loan.
● Co-housing / Intentional Community
Churches In the Diocese of California:
● Provides six months of transitional housing for clergy moving to the area.
● Rents out apartments/properties that belong to the church at market rate for income that supports the operating budget.
● Rent a church-owned apartment to area clergy
● Build/renovate housing for lay/clergy staff.
● Provide an additional housing stipend on top of clergy compensation
● Offer a Housing Equity Share (church and priest co-own)
As the 173rd Convention voted to amend the resolution to ask that proceeds from the sale of property be considered for use towards clergy housing, we recommend the following:
1. We believe that a straightforward, pastoral, transparent, and collaborative process needs to be established for discerning the use of the proceeds of the sale of church property, that includes key stakeholders, including members of the congregation and the local community. When possible, these conversations should take place before a congregation closes its doors.
2. We suggest that proceeds from the sale of church properties be used to establish a fund to support the supportive housing options listed above.
Furthermore, based on our research and survey from the feedback:
3. We recommend that a resource should be developed and made consistently available to assist all incoming clergy with finding, securing, renting, and/or purchasing housing.
4. We recommend making additional, meaningful, fully-comprehensive compensation data available so that clergy and congregations know how diocesan clergy are compensated and what benefits, particularly benefits related to housing, have been extended to clergy serving in the diocese, as salary is only one component of overall compensation.
The Clergy Housing Task Force:
The Rev. Jon Owens
The Rev. David Erickson
The Rev. AnnaMarie Hoos
The Rev. Stephen M. Siptroth