CA law helps churches, nonprofits build affordable housing quicker

Phillip Palmer Image
Saturday, April 20, 2024
Affordable housing construction made easier thanks to SB 4 law
Churches and other nonprofits will be able to rezone their land quickly to build more affordable housing under a new California law.

PLACENTIA, Calif. (KABC) -- The homeless crisis has sparked a movement among religious institutions, dubbed "yes in God's backyard," or "YIGBY," to convert their surplus land and underutilized parking lots into affordable housing.

A number of projects are already underway across California cities, but institutions often face hurdles trying because their land is not zoned for residential use.

A new state law, SB4, hopes to make the process easier.

The law will allow religious institutions and nonprofit colleges to use some of their property for low-income housing. Land can be rezoned, bypassing most local permitting and environmental review rules that can be costly and add years to development.

"We're called to also help them... to help those less fortunate," said Rev. R. Barrett Van Buren, rector at the Episcopal Church of The Blessed Sacrament, in Placentia.

California accounts for about a third of the nation's homeless population. Over the last five years, the number of older Californians accessing homeless services has nearly doubled.

"It could accelerate the production of thousands of units throughout the state of California and is one solution to our housing crisis," said Alexa Washburn, senior vice president of planning for National CORE.

The Santa Angelina Senior Community was developed by National CORE at the Episcopal Church of the Blessed Sacrament in Placentia. Construction of the apartments took about 18 months, but almost six years of planning before ground was ever broken.

SB4 could streamline future projects for the diocese.

"The effect it's already having with us as a diocese is maybe opening up some more of the imagination of some of our congregations and parishioners and community members who can start imagining 'Wow, this might be easier than it would have been in years past,'" said Rev. Michael Bell, director of housing and business development for the Episcopal Diocese of L.A.

When existing communities hear the term "affordable housing" there can be some pushback. However, when the end product is as beautiful as Santa Angelina, it gives low-income housing a new perspective.

"Now, we've got people totally excited about it because they see the whole project in a whole different light," Van Buren said.

The Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles wants to use 25% of church property across six counties for affordable housing.

"California is heavily regulated as we know but this is a way, this is a solution to cut that red tape. It is serving as a model for other states throughout the country," Washburn said.

There are hopes that SB4 could streamline future projects for the diocese to further support the construction of more affordable housing all throughout the state.