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California State Senator Wiener Introduces Legislation to Streamline Affordable Housing on Properties Owned by Religious Institutions and Nonprofit Hospitals

California State Senator Wiener Introduces Legislation to Streamline Affordable Housing on Properties Owned by Religious Institutions and Nonprofit Hospitals
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California State Senator Scott Wiener (D – San Francisco) recently introduced Senate Bill 899 (SB 899), which would allow faith institutions and nonprofit hospitals to build affordable housing on their properties regardless of local zoning law. In other words, nonprofit hospitals and religious institutions (such as churches, synagogues, and mosques) will have a “by right” ability to build affordable housing, even if local zoning prohibits the use. However, the legislation would onlyapply to 100 percent affordable housing for low-income residents.


The impetus behind SB 899 is the fact that many faith and charitable institutions have excess property, such as large surface parking lots, on which they could build affordable housing. Indeed, California has seen faith communities in various jurisdictions partner with nonprofit housing developers to build affordable housing on their land. Yet current zoning laws in many cities prohibit the building of multifamily apartment buildings—or any housing at all—on these properties. Further, getting such land rezoned and getting a project through the approval process can be difficult and incredibly expensive.

Senate Bill 899

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 a costly and complex 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 for-sale units. 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). Whereas, 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).

As we all know, California is dealing with a severe housing crisis caused by a shortage of approximately 3.5 million homes. This shortage drives up housing costs, making California the most expensive state in which to rent or buy a home. In addition, the state’s homelessness crisis is worsening at an alarming rate. In order to help alleviate these problems, SB 899 would allow churches, hospitals, and other nonprofit institutions to provide affordable housing by building it on their own properties.

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

Senator Wiener issued a statement saying:

“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 echoed the Senator’s sentiment, saying that:

“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.”

Conclusion and Implications

Housing is expensive in California. Efforts at the legislature to address affordable housing have faced stiff resistance to date. Senator Wiener’s comprehensive SB 50 is an example of this. Now, Senator Wiener is trying to address housing in more piecemeal fashion to gain some traction. SB 899 is one of those efforts.

The text of SB 899 is accessible online at the following link:

(Nedda Mahrou)