Struggling Miami churches in Little Haiti, Liberty City could get help from $1M fund

A new $1 million program to help relieve struggling religious institutions and other charitable organizations in District 5 was approved as a part of the Miami city budget, which begins Sunday, Oct. 1.

Commission Chairwoman Christine King, who represents District 5, which includes Overtown, Liberty City, Little Haiti and parts of the Upper East Side, initiated the measure, approved Thursday evening. The package was originally slated to include aid only for historic houses of worship struggling to maintain their buildings, but was expanded to include any nonprofit in the district that owns their property.

King created the program to fund one-time grants to historic religious buildings churches, synagogues and mosques in District 5 that are facing financial hardships and need to update their sanctuaries. Churches and other nonprofit institutions that are facing a 40-year recertification inspection, which can result in costly building renovations to keep up with hurricane safety measures, structural repairs and ADA-accessibility standards, will be eligible.

The relief program was borne out of conversations King had with pastors in her district about their struggles with low attendance since the COVID-19 pandemic and skyrocketing construction costs, making it difficult to maintain their sanctuaries.

“When I got elected, I recognized a major stakeholder in my district are the churches,” said King. “This relief package is intended to cure some of the burdens that our institutions are facing.”

Miami Commission Chairwoman Christine King, who led the effort for a $1 million fund in the city’s budget to help struggling houses of worship and other nonprofits in District 5.
Miami Commission Chairwoman Christine King, who led the effort for a $1 million fund in the city’s budget to help struggling houses of worship and other nonprofits in District 5.

The program will focus on providing aid for struggling churches in Little Haiti and Liberty City neighborhoods, but any established institution, regardless of denomination, in District 5 will be able to apply, King said.

“These churches, they feed the community. They have the outreach. They were a beacon during the pandemic,” King said. “I just can’t sit back and watch these institutions just disappear because they don’t have the money.”

The program, which King developed in partnership with Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, comes just weeks after the Southeast Overtown/Park West Community Redevelopment Agency voted to purchase about $4 million in debt from one of Miami’s oldest Black churches days before it was scheduled to lose three buildings in a foreclosure auction.

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King, who is also chairwoman of the CRA, was a part of the board that allocated the agency’s funds to save the historic St. John Institutional Missionary Baptist Church, 1328 NW Third Ave. in Overtown. She said community redevelopment agencies have been helping struggling churches in some Miami neighborhoods, but more has to be done.

“They are investing in the historic churches in Overtown, but I didn’t have any such relief in the Liberty City area because we don’t have a CRA in the Liberty City area,” King said. “So I got together with Francis, our mayor, and I said, ‘Hey, we’re having this issue. Let’s do something about it.’”

Many of the program’s details are still being figured out such as how much funding one institution can receive, and how old it has to be to apply for the program. There will be some sort of “age requirement” of the religious institutions, King said, as the program is not meant for those just starting out.

Many predominantly Black churches in Liberty City and Little Haiti neighborhoods would qualify for the program including St. Paul AME, Mt Calvary Missionary Baptist Church and The Church of Incarnation, said King. These are churches that have provided relief to immigrant communities — particularly those coming from Haiti, as well as outreach services to struggling residents.

“They’re really suffering, and you don’t want to lose a church that has been providing spiritual relief and other relief to the community — some of them for over 100 years,” King said. “So this is a good thing for our community.”

This report was created with philanthropic support from Christian, Muslim and Jewish funders in partnership with Journalism Funding Partners. The Miami Herald retains editorial control of all work.