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SB 50 Author Proposes Bill Allowing Churches By-Right Development

The latest measure aimed at California’s housing crisis could usher churches, mosques and nonprofit hospitals into the development business.

Oasis Church in Los Angeles

A new bill introduced by state Sen. Scott Wiener, a Democrat who represents the 11th District, on Friday would give faith institutions and nonprofit hospitals the right to build 100% affordable housing projects on their property.

The proposed bill, SB 899, opens up such projects to by-right development, meaning churches and other qualifying charitable institutions could go through with affordable housing projects and avoid rezoning and discretionary approval processes that often prove to be their undoing. 

Housing developers have struggled to get enough support from local communities for their projects. A new poll conducted for The Mercury News and Silicon Valley Leadership Group shows that while almost 90% of Bay Area residents call homelessness an extremely or very serious problem, a much smaller percentage would support solutions in their own neighborhoods. 

“California desperately needs housing of all kinds, including affordable housing for our low-income residents,” Wiener said in a statement.

“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.”

Wiener’s latest proposal follows the late January failure of SB 50, a polarizing bill he authored that would have allowed certain multifamily development across California’s many transit- and job-rich areas. Elected officials like Wiener and Assembly member Buffy Wicks, a Democrat who represents the 15th District, who has come out in support of SB 899, have called for sweeping legislation to deal with the state’s housing crisis.

Experts and elected officials say the state is short about 3.5 million housing units, putting a severe strain on the cost of living and increasing the state’s homeless population.

Both the Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California and the Southern California Association of Nonprofit Housing co-sponsored SB 899. The bill would work alongside AB 1851 (sponsored by Wicks), which would eliminate parking requirements for housing development projects on faith-based properties.

Related Topics: Scott Wiener, SB 50