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Yes in God's back yard: Bay Area lawmaker revives plan for affordable housing at churches

SAN FRANCISCO – Amid the state's ongoing housing woes, a Bay Area lawmaker has reintroduced a proposal that would make it easier for houses of worship to build affordable housing on their lots.

This week, State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) introduced Senate Bill 1336, which would allow religious institutions, such as churches, synagogues and mosques, to build affordable housing by-right, even if prohibited by local zoning. Development would also be allowed at nonprofit colleges.

SB1336 would only apply for developments that are 100% affordable for low-income residents. The housing must remain affordable for 55 years if it's a rental property and 45 years for properties that can be owned.

"Our churches, mosques and synagogues want to do everything they can to help our communities," Wiener said in a statement. "Many of them have land that they can use for affordable housing, but when they try to build these projects, they face years of delays and arbitrary zoning restrictions."

According to Wiener, while houses of worship have long partnered with nonprofit housing developers to build affordable housing, the zoning and approval process can often be difficult and expensive.

"Faith-based organizations have long served as community anchors, living out their faith by supporting their neighbors," said Amie Fishman, executive director of the Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California, which is co-sponsoring SB1336. "Homes are the foundation of any thriving community."

Two years ago, Wiener introduced a similar measure known as Senate Bill 899. While it passed unanimously in the State Senate and the Assembly Housing Committee, SB899 ultimately failed to get out of the legislature.

SB1366 is scheduled to be heard in the Assembly Housing Committee next week.

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