Calif. Lawmaker Wants to Fast-Track Housing for Religious Institutions

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California state Sen. Scott Wiener, who frequently authors housing reform bills, has introduced a plan to streamline the approval process for affordable housing projects on property owned by faith-based institutions like churches, synagogues and mosques, as well as nonprofit colleges.

Senate Bill 1336 would allow these institutions to build 100 percent affordable projects on their property for low-income residents “by right,” even if local zoning prevents such development.

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Many faith and charitable institutions have excess property, such as overly large parking lots, and they have partnered with nonprofit housing developers in the past to build affordable housing on their land. But new local zoning laws often prohibit building multifamily apartment buildings or any housing on these properties, Wiener’s office said, and getting the land rezoned and securing entitlements for a project can be “difficult or impossible, and incredibly expensive.”

SB 1336 stipulates that faith-based institutions and nonprofit colleges that do get projects streamlined through the bill must maintain the affordability of the homes for a minimum of 55 years for rental properties and 45 years for properties that can be owned.

California is currently facing a severe housing crisis and a shortage of 3.5 million homes, as well as a worsening homelessness crisis. The housing shortage drives up costs, making California the most expensive state in which to rent or buy a home. 

“Our churches, mosques and synagogues want to do everything they can to help our communities,” Wiener said in a statement. “Many of them have land that they can use for affordable housing, but when they try to build these projects, they face years of delays and arbitrary zoning restrictions. SB 1336 will allow our faith institutions to support low-income residents, and will help alleviate California’s housing crisis.”

The Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California (NPH) and the Southern California Association of Non-Profit Housing (SCANPH) are co-sponsors of SB 1336.

“SCANPH has worked closely with many faith-based institutions and nonprofits in our region on this concept in recent years,” SCANPH policy coordinator Jackson Loop said. “These organizations are existing community anchors that are ready to contribute to the effort to abate our state’s housing crisis. SB 1336 is a simple solution which will help them do just that by making it easier to build new affordable housing on faith-based institutions’ lands, many of which are in high-resource neighborhoods.”

Gregory Cornfield can be reached at gcornfield@commercialobserver.com.