Spotlight on up-and-comers
Renato N. Matos
In 2008, when Renato Matos graduated from law school,
he assumed he was going to be a corporate tax lawyer at
a large law firm—and for a time he was. Then in 2010, at
the request of a senior partner at Capell Barnett Matalon
& Schoenfeld, he found himself working on a real estate
matter for a Lutheran church council.
“I just loved it and started doing more real estate and less
tax law,” Matos says. “I’d say about 98 percent of my practice
is [now] real estate related to religious organizations.”
Matos represents more than 500 congregations and
three denominations in New York. He’s currently involved in
nearly 50 development projects—ranging from sales and
subdivisions to joint ventures and ground leases.
“When you represent a church,” says Matos, “you’re
working for a client that is not exclusively interested in the
project just for the money. And a lot of times, we see that
many of these churches are not exactly real estate savvy.
So they need, not just extra legal help, but business help.”
Needs differ according to the church. Some, such as
Seventh-day Adventists, are thriving in the city. Matos is
working with one congregation on a 49,000-square-foot
church facility that includes an auditorium, classrooms
and a regulation-size basketball court, as well as a
500,000-square-foot affordable housing project.
Others face declining attendance, meaning there’s
“This is a predominantly black congregation, and the
less money to combat skyrocketing building costs. “Many
churches,” says Matos, “are one roof replacement away
from folding; but they’re also in an area where there’s great
value to their property.”
Matos recently negotiated a ground lease for a church
in gentrified Brooklyn; the funds will be used to build an
energy-efficient building across the street.
heart of that congregation is their school,” says Matos.
Renato Matos helps religious organizations survive through real estate BY ANDREW BRANDT
“You have parents who have lived in this neighborhood
for years, and their rent has gone up from, say, $1,500
to $2,200 dollars in a matter of two years, with no end
in sight. Whatever extra money they have, they have to
choose between paying rent and sending their kids to a
private Christian school. They have to pay rent, right? So
the school starts to suffer. And if the school suffers, then
the congregation suffers.” The solution? “Ground leas-
ing the space where you have the existing church into a
residential apartment building to get an income stream
of over $400,000 each year. Not only can we build a
new church, but we can actually use the income to lower
school tuition rates. At the end of 25 years, the school
will be tuition-free.
“It’s my favorite project,” he adds.
Matos says the toughest part of his job is seeing
congregations taken advantage of—despite bureaucratic
safeguards. Churches, for example, have to get approval
from the state attorney general, and sometimes the
state Supreme Court, for each real estate deal. “It adds
an extra level of protection,” he says, “and makes sure
it’s not, at the very least, a bad deal for the church.”
Matos enjoys spending time out of the office, meet-
ing with different denominations and their boards. “I’ve
got great clients, and it makes me feel good that I get to
work with organizations at a really crucial point in time,”
he says. “[The work] could make a church survive and
continue what it’s doing for the next 50 to 100 years; with
bad advice, it may not. I take that pretty seriously.
“In a weird way,” he adds, “this kind of brought my faith
back. Because I see the good that is happening.”
“Many churches,” says Matos, “are one
roof replacement away from folding;
but they’re also in an area where
there’s great value to their property.”