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Gov. Newsom signs bill making it easier for houses of worship to build affordable housing

The law erases a zoning requirement that requires a certain ratio of parking if the religious institution agrees to build 100% affordable housing.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — You may have heard about the YIMBYs and the NIMBYs when it comes to the housing fight in California: “Yes in My Backyard” or “Not in My Backyard.”

On Tuesday, Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill known as part of the “Yes in God's Backyard” movement.

The law making it easier for houses of worship to build affordable housing on its property. The state of California required a certain amount of parking to accompany the development of new houses of worship. What happens if they don’t need the parking and instead want to help the community and build affordable housing units.

One temple faced with the answer of “sorry, but no” decided to change that.

 Ikar, a Jewish community in Los Angeles, is expanding.

“Five years ago, now, Ikar was able for the first time to buy a piece of property that we will we intend to build our synagogue and our preschool and our community space on,” Brooke Wirtschafter said.

As community organizer, Wirtschafter asked her congregation a question.

“How can we live out our values through the space that we build?" she posed.

Wirtschafter said they found the answer.

"What we quickly decided was that building homes for people who are unhoused in Los Angeles is clearly the highest and best use we can make of being property owners," she said. 

They got right to work and partnered with a non-profit affordable housing developer.

“We have a plan in place now to build 55 units of permanent supportive housing for formerly unhoused seniors on our site, it will be a part of our property, but with its own entrances, its own lobby, its own facilities,” she said.

They quickly learned the hard way just how many barriers to building affordable housing there are in California. For one, zoning requires her synagogue to provide a certain ratio of parking.

“We don't want to build that much parking because it's just much more parking than we think we need, and it's tremendously expensive,” she said.

So, she started digging, found a law signed two years ago that allowed existing houses of worship to slash parking requirements by 50% if they build 100% affordable housing.

“The way that law was written, it only applied if you were going to remove existing parking," she xplained.

That’s when they contacted assemblywoman Buffy Wicks, who wrote their concerns down into a bill. A bill, Newsom signed Tuesday.

“We know that there are actually hundreds of churches and mosques and synagogues across the state of California that are looking into building affordable housing on their sites right now,” she said.

Fifty-five units may not seem like much but add on all the other houses of worship and that’s several thousands. Working together, she said, is the only way to help solve the housing crisis in California.

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