Senator Wiener Introduces Housing Legislation to Allow Churches and Other Charitable Institutions to Build Affordable Housing on Their Property

SB 899 allows faith institutions and nonprofit hospitals to build affordable housing on their property regardless of local zoning law
March 6, 2020

Sacramento – Today, Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) introduced SB 899 to allow faith institutions (such as churches, synagogues, and mosques) along with nonprofit hospitals to build affordable housing on their property by right, even if local zoning prohibits this type of housing. The legislation only applies to 100% affordable housing for low-income residents.

Many faith and charitable institutions have excess property – for example, overly large parking lots – on which they can build affordable housing. Faith communities have, for a long time, partnered with nonprofit housing developers to build affordable housing on their land. However, current zoning laws in many cities prohibit the building of multifamily apartment buildings – or any housing at all – on this property. Moreover, getting this land rezoned and getting a project through the approval process can be difficult or impossible, and incredibly expensive. SB 899 ensures that churches, faith institutions, and nonprofit hospitals will be able to build up to 150 units of affordable housing on their land without having to go through an expensive and difficult rezoning and discretionary approval process.

Any organization building this type of streamlined affordable housing must maintain the affordability of these homes for a minimum of 55 years for rental properties and 45 years for properties that can be owned. Additionally, density and height restrictions will depend on the location of the property and its proximity to major roads and commercial corridors. In low-density residential neighborhoods, affordable housing may be streamlined for projects up to 40 units and three stories in height (36 feet). In mixed-use areas or commercial corridors, affordable housing may be streamlined for projects up to 150 units and five stories in height (55 feet).

California is currently facing a severe housing crisis spurred by a shortage of 3.5 million homes. This shortage drives up housing costs, making California the most expensive state in which to rent or buy a home. Young families are leaving California in search of cheaper housing, kids can’t afford to live where they grew up, and evictions and displacement are spiking. Our homelessness crisis is worsening, and people are sleeping on their streets and in their cars in higher and higher numbers. SB 899 will allow churches, hospitals, and other nonprofit institutions to help alleviate this crisis by building affordable housing on their own property. These institutions already serve deeply important and central roles in our communities, and they should be able to provide housing to those who need it.

SB 899 is co-sponsored by the Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California (NPH) and the Southern California Association of Nonprofit Housing (SCANPH). This legislation will complement Assemblymember Buffy Wicks’ bill, AB 1851, which eliminates residential parking requirements on qualifying housing development projects on faith based properties. SB 899 and AB 1851 will both make it easier and less expensive to build affordable housing on these properties.

Senator Wiener said:

“California desperately needs housing of all kinds, including affordable housing for our low income residents. Churches and other religious and charitable institutions often have land to spare, and they should be able to use that land to build affordable housing and thus further their mission. SB 899 ensures that affordable housing can be built and removes local zoning and approval obstacles in order to do so.”

Assemblymember Buffy Wicks said:

“Our community faith leaders see how our housing crisis impacts lives every day, and they want to be a part of the solution by building affordable housing on their property. The State needs to consider all options for alleviating our housing crisis, and removing roadblocks for the faith community is a critical step in the right direction.”

Mayor London Breed said:

“Senator Wiener’s legislation is a creative approach to addressing the housing shortage in San Francisco and across California. Our housing shortage is the result of decades of underbuilding and restrictive zoning, and as a result, the cost of housing in San Francisco is unaffordable for many of our residents. We need solutions to eliminate the red tape that gets in the way of creating more affordable homes in our city.”

Amie Fishman, Executive Director of the Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California, said:

"Faith-based organizations have long served as community anchors, and SB 899 offers new tools to help them build stable, safe, affordable homes for our local residents and families, while opening doors to high opportunity neighborhoods. We are excited about this opportunity to house more veterans, seniors, people with disabilities, and other vulnerable community members."

Alan Greenlee, Executive Director of the Southern California Association of Nonprofit Housing, said:

“California needs to build more affordable housing and we need to build it now. But the cost of land is a major obstacle to development, particularly at the scale California needs. SB 899 delivers a much-needed solution by ensuring land owned by churches and religious institutions can be prioritized for affordable housing. This available land can serve the public good, which reflects the social mission of religious institutions and the spirit of helping our neighbors in need of a home, as we must collaborate and share resources to solve our housing crisis.”