Dear California State Senate,
We are six Episcopal Bishops, whose dioceses cover the state of California. Our dioceses include 370 congregations serving 98,345 members. We write in support of Senate Bill (SB) 4, the Affordable Housing on Faith Lands Act. This measure would make building affordable housing easier, faster, and cheaper on land owned by faith-based institutions and nonprofit colleges.
Across California, faith-based organizations and non-profit colleges are seeking to partner with affordable housing developers to build critically needed affordable homes on their own land. These faith-based organizations are long-standing community anchors and are driven by their values to support those most in need and help address our homelessness crisis.
Per a study by the UC Berkeley Terner Center, there are approximately 38,800 acres of land—roughly the size of the city of Stockton—used for religious purposes and are potentially developable. A significant share of that acreage (45 percent) is located in the state’s “high” or “highest” resource opportunity areas, signaling an opportunity for building housing in neighborhoods with lower poverty rates and greater economic, educational, and environmental amenities.
Unfortunately, the land that these organizations hold can often be locked into complicated and cost-prohibitive local zoning rules and regulations. These can range from standards which allow only a few units to be built on large parcels to others which limit any housing construction at all. The variety of red tape and obstacles in the way make development financially infeasible and discourage institutions from moving forward with projects that would benefit their low-income and unhoused neighbors.
A 2022 report from the California Department of Housing and Community Development found that we need to build 1.2 million affordable homes over the next decade to meet our housing goals. Over the last few years, California has added an average of 19,000 affordable units a year. At this pace we will not reach our state goals without increased streamlining for affordable housing production.
SB 4 will streamline the building process and offer new tools for neighborhood leaders to build safe, stable, affordable homes for local residents and families. This bill will allow places of worship to build 100% affordable housing projects, creating a valuable option in the midst of the state’s housing and homelessness crises. It also provides significant untapped benefits for faith-based organizations, from supporting an organization’s charitable mission to providing revenue that can stabilize the organization’s finances.
Equally important, this Act will help our state’s construction workforce rise and thrive. Construction workers will be protected by the requirement to pay prevailing wages. On projects with at least 50 units, contractors must offer apprentices employment and pay for health care for construction workers and their dependents. This creates an economic base and new opportunities for construction workers and provides our state with the highly skilled workforce it needs to build our future.
This is a common-sense opportunity for us to partner with trusted community leaders. The catastrophic tragedies we see on the street every day call for urgent and bold action and this bill will help us move forward. Thank you for your leadership on these critical housing and homelessness issues and for all these reasons, we support this bill.
The Rt. Rev. Marc Andrus
Episcopal Bishop of California
The Rt. Rev. Lucinda Ashby
Episcopal Bishop of El Camino Real
The Rt. Rev. David Rice
Episcopal Bishop of San Joaquin
The Rt. Rev. Dr. Susan Brown Snook
Episcopal Bishop of San Diego
The Rt. Rev. John Harvey Taylor
Episcopal Bishop of Los Angeles
The Rt. Rev. Megan Traquair
Episcopal Bishop of Northern California
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