Bay Area churches face barriers to building affordable housing on their land

By Adhiti Bandlamundi, KQED, August 18 2022

How Jordan Court succeeded when many others couldn’t

“Churches are one of the largest landowners in the country. … According to a 2020 study from UC Berkeley’s Terner Center for Housing Innovation, California faith institutions collectively own about 38,800 acres of undeveloped land. Almost half of that land is located in ‘resource rich’ areas, where there is better access to schools, public transportation, grocery stores, and economic opportunities.

“[Berkeley’s] Jordan Court is one of the few church-led affordable housing developments successfully built in the Bay Area. The process started in 2014, when Rev. Phil Brochard and the All Souls Episcopal congregation were trying to decide what to do with an apartment building the church owned next door.

“The project got some help from … SB 35[.] If a project meets certain criteria and contains fewer than 150 units, local governments must greenlight them within 60 days. Jordan Court contained 34 units and met all the criteria.

“The church [also had] many affluent congregants who volunteered their skills toward developing Jordan Court, including an architect who assisted in the design process and an attorney who helped sort through the legal red tape.

Why aren’t there more Jordan Courts?

“[Satellite Affordable Housing Associates CEO Susan] Friedland has talked with parishes who wanted to build affordable housing for their congregants, but backed out after realizing [“Under fair housing laws, affordable housing projects must be open to anyone who qualifies.”]

“Another misconception is how financially lucrative an affordable housing project could be.

“Developing affordable housing takes a lot of time and resources, which can be daunting for new developers like churches.

Making affordable housing work for more churches

“While building housing may align with a church’s mission to serve its community, it’s not always cost-effective. According to [Pastor L.J. Jennings leader of the Kingdom Builders Christian Fellowship and founder of the Kingdom Builders Project], this is because faith institutions aren’t familiar with the financing of housing developments and therefore don’t know how to negotiate with savvy housing developers.

“Since 2019, Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) Bay Area has worked with 20 churches in the East Bay that wanted to develop housing on their property.

“[Tia Hicks, program officer at LISC,] says faith institutions are some of the best organizations to get involved in housing because they are usually entrenched in the communities they serve and understand the specific needs.”

Read the full article here(~8 min.)

Also in Roundup: AB 2244, which reduces parking requirements for places of worship building affordable housing, was signed into law on July 19. Read that story here.

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