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Bill Would Let CA Churches Turn Unused Property Into Affordable Housing - Here's Why That's a Big Deal

03-02-2022
Image Credit: Tim Meyer/Unsplash
Image Credit: Tim Meyer/Unsplash

California Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland) recently introduced a bill that would make it easier for faith communities to build affordable housing by reducing parking requirements.

Wicks presented Assembly Bill 2244 on Feb. 16, with the purpose of allowing church leaders to turn their underused land into a residential area. 

According to Religion News, Wicks' office developed a fact sheet indicating that state law has lowered some parking requirements for housing on church properties. The problem is that local governments associate the regulations with existing religious institutions, not those for future developments. 

The current law permits religious institutions to remove up to 50 percent of their existing parking for the purpose of creating affordable housing on their land.

The fact sheet says, "These interpretations strictly limit the applicability of this important housing option for all future congregations that may wish to support and address the housing needs of their local community."

Wicks says the proposed measure would assist with California's housing crisis.

"You have a nonprofit developer who wants to build housing. You have a church who has the land who wants to build the housing," Wick explained. "We have a big need for affordable housing, and yet it wasn't happening because the cities were putting these parking requirements on these churches around how many parking spots they need depending on the size of the church."

She added, "This felt like an honestly pretty simple solution."

IKAR, a Jewish congregation in Los Angeles, purchased property five years ago to build a synagogue and community center. The group chose to develop 55 units of housing for formerly unhoused senior citizens. 

But, parking restrictions for IKAR would require that two layers of underground parking be built, which is costly. Brooke Wirtschafter, IKAR's director of community organizing, said she supports Wicks' legislation.

"There are many houses of worship that are looking into building affordable housing right now on their properties, and they're running into a number of zoning restrictions that are making that more difficult and more costly," Wirtschafter said. "This is one among several issues that is raising the difficulty and cost of building affordable housing on faith community sites."

She continued, "As we began the process of thinking about what does it mean for us to have a home in Los Angeles, and to live out our values in the process of having a home, it means creating homes for other people because that is the greatest need right now."

Meanwhile, the national nonprofit Enterprise Community Partners announced on Feb. 23 that $8.5 million in grants from the Wells Fargo Foundation was donated to help houses of worship in Atlanta, New York, Seattle, Baltimore, and Miami transform underutilized land into affordable homes and community facilities. 

Funding from Wells Fargo will help broaden Enterprise's Faith-Based Development Initiative, which will partner with churches to develop nearly 6,000 affordable homes — including 1,000 in Atlanta.

"As community anchors, houses of worship are at the center of so many lives and working together, we can bring a whole new level of innovation to the housing supply challenge," said Eileen Fitzgerald, Wells Fargo's head of housing affordability philanthropy.

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