December 8, 2023
In October 2023 the Governor of California approved Senate Bill 4 known as the “Affordable Housing on Faith and Higher Education Lands Act of 2023.” Supporters of the Bill have nicknamed it the “YIGBY” bill – “Yes in God’s Backyard.”
Senate Bill 4 provides a streamlined process for religious organizations to develop affordable housing on their property regardless of local zoning restrictions. This bill requires that a housing development project be deemed a use by right upon the request of an applicant who submits an application for streamlined approval on any land owned by a religious institution on or before January 1, 2024.
Faith-based organizations have a long history of partnering with nonprofit developers to build affordable housing. Often, these religious organizations have excess land that they make available for affordable housing developments.
Affordable housing development is limited both by available funding as well as land-use restrictions that prohibit residential uses at densities adequate for affordable housing development.
Many of these faith-based organizations are located in areas that are not zoned to permit multifamily housing. This means that the religious institution and affordable housing developer partner have to rezone the land, which is a tricky process that costs money and can cause long delays in building the affordable homes Californians need. Further, the rezoning process opens up the affordable housing development to significant risk and unpredictability in the approval process as there are more avenues for lawsuits and appeal.
Senate Bill 4 streamlines the building process for faith-based institutions that want to build affordable projects for low-income families by allowing them to build multifamily housing, regardless of local zoning restrictions. This legislation guarantees “by-right” approval of projects so long as they are consistent with all objective standards of the jurisdiction and comply with listed environmental protections. That means faith-based organizations don’t have to go through time-consuming, costly approvals, reviews, zoning changes, or environmental review and will enjoy exemption from, or reduction of, density limitations, parking standards and various fees, among other things. Furthermore, the proposed affordable housing development project does not require a conditional use permit, planned unit development permit, or other discretionary local government review. This would take many months, if not years, off the development timeline and reduce development costs considerably.
Senate Bill 4 makes building affordable housing easier, faster, and less expensive for faith-based institutions in a broad range of communities across California. Many of the faith-based institutions are already community anchors, and Senate Bill 4 will help them build stable, safe, affordable housing for local residents and families.
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