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In-Depth: California Senate takes second look at 'YIGBY' bill

Law would allow churches to build affordable housing
Posted at 6:17 AM, Feb 27, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-27 10:38:38-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - A bill in the California Senate hopes to make it easier for religious groups and other nonprofits to build affordable housing.

The bill, SB 4, would allow those groups to build 100% affordable housing on land they own "by right." That means they wouldn't have to go through time-consuming, costly approvals, reviews, or zoning changes from city councils or other planning departments.

"If they have an interest in providing affordable housing, they're already a cornerstone of our communities, they are integrated into the community fabric, I think it would be a strong thing if they had a by-right opportunity to produce affordable housing on their property," said state Assemblyman Chris Ward (D-San Diego), who is one of the sponsors of the bill.

"It would easily save many months, if not a few years off of the development timeline, which is a lot of money when it comes to figuring out how to piece together the total amount needed to build affordable housing," Ward added.

A similar bill, SB 899, failed in 2020, mainly because of concerns over labor issues. Ward said the new bill clears all that up, and he's hopeful it can pass this summer.

The bill falls into a recent push for churches to build housing called "YIGBY," or "Yes in God's Back Yard." Advocates of the idea have been fighting for years to get faith-based organizations more involved in solving the housing crisis.

"There are 1,100 churches in San Diego County with over 3,000 acres of property," YIGBY advocate Tom Theisen told ABC 10News in 2019. "If just 10% of those churches, 100 churches, were to do 20-30 units each, we're talking thousands of units of housing."

A 2020 study by the Terner Centerfor Housing Innovation looked at the idea state-wide. It says California has 38,000 acres of faith-based land that could support housing.

But getting housing built on that land has proven difficult.

Clairemont Lutheran Church tried to launch a YIGBY project in 2015. ABC 10News profiled its ideas in 2019. The church planned to build a 21-unit complex on land currently occupied by their parking lot.

But current zoning and parking laws proved too complicated to get around. In an email, Pastor Jonathan Doolittle told ABC 10News they had given up on the idea because his church "tried a number of different building plans but could not find a path that worked for all the players."

Bethel AME in Logan Heights could be the first to build a YIGBY complex in San Diego. They have plans to tear down a two-unit duplex and build a 26-unit complex in its place. The new development would be 100% affordable and apartments would be reserved exclusively for veterans and seniors.

"We do have a lot of land that's not being utilized. So why not?" said Pastor Harvey Vaughn. "Housing, new housing, safe housing, affordable housing, that's the key. That will help to transform, not just Logan Heights but this entire area."

Vaughn's church plans to break ground in March and have people moving in by December. He thinks SB4 could open the door to similar developments.

"I think it's gonna be absolutely imperative that places of worship take an active role in helping to resolve what is happening in their community."

SB4 will get its first committee hearing in March. Ward hopes it can pass the Senate and move to the Assembly by this summer.