Did you know that a congregation can have affordable housing built
on their property with no out-of-pocket cost to the congregation?
Transforming Congregations, Lives and Cities With Affordable Housing on Religious Land
Does your congregation have an underutilized parking lot or land? Is your church in need of extra income?
MHCH’s Congregational Land Committee was created to assist religious institutions in exploring the feasibility of using some their property to build affordable housing, often at no cost to the congregation. We are happy to initiate a dialogue with you to discern if building affordable housing on underutilized congregation land is a wise and feasible option.
We can help your congregation connect with an affordable housing developer who will obtain the needed funding and ensure that this project fulfills the vision and mission of your congregation, with a fair rate of return. To request assistance, contact: Philip Burns
Testimonial from a Church That Plans to Build 80+ units of Affordable Housing
The pastor and a trustee of this church wrote of Phil Burns and Andre White, members of the MHCH Congregational Land team: “We are so grateful to have been connected to Phil Burns and Andre White to support our church. Taking a collaborative approach, they helped us reconsider our campus, and looked how we could build affordable housing and a new spiritual center on our property…. Affordable housing has not been built in our city since 2005. A year and a half later, we are in a position to understand our options going forward. We see a way to meet a deep community need, and a potential way to be sustainable for the next 55+ years....Many churches are facing a precipice. Innovation is necessary. With declines in membership and funding in the last four years, we faced a huge challenge….Not only have we benefited from the deep land use and real estate expertise, we have also enjoyed their willingness to think creatively and strategically. I can’t think of any better examples of innovative leadership.”
Download Powerpoints on Zoning and the "Overlay" Zone:
About the Congregational Land Committee
To request assistance, contact: Philip Burns
Los Angeles County is in a severe affordable housing and homelessness crisis, with nearly 60,000 homeless persons and over 500,000 affordable housing units needed to meet demand.
Amid this crisis, congregations have a unique opportunity to provide affordable housing. For those experiencing homelessness many congregations offer meals and other outreach ministries, including having a professional housing navigator offer a path to becoming housed. But even professional homeless service organizations lack enough affordable housing once those experiencing homelessness are on this path.
As wise stewards of their resources some congregations are building affordable housing on their property. Other congregations have large parking lots that go empty during the week, buildings constructed for congregations much larger than is needed today, or other property that can be re-purposed. In building affordable housing, there can be some economic benefit for the church as well as to those needing to be housed. In some cases, affordable housing developers have provided additional parking for the church.
The MHCH Congregational Land Committee was created to assist churches in exploring the feasibility of using some their property to build affordable housing, often at no cost to the congregation. We are happy to initiate a dialogue with you to discern if building affordable housing on underutilized congregation land is a wise and feasible option.
Step 1. Identify & Inform Congregations.
Making Housing and Community Happen (formerly known as the Greater Pasadena Affordable Housing Group, or GPAHG) has spent decades building relationships with churches and religious institutions across the San Gabriel Valley. These relationships have led to an understanding that many congregations in our area are deeply concerned about the homeless and housing crisis and have the land where affordable housing units could be built.
If your church is interested in exploring the feasibility of using congregation land for affordable housing, fill out our online Intake Form, and we will contact you with next steps.
To identify interested congregations, from time to time, we may also hold events designed for interested parties to understand the process and ask questions.
Step 2. Initial Meeting with Key Person(s).
We’ll sit down with you and other like-minded leaders from your congregation (if appropriate) to gain a better understanding of your perspective and provide some initial information about the affordable housing development process. We’ll want to hear about your missional goals or aspirations, your financial goals or needs, and your ongoing property needs, among other items, and we’ll share relevant information about the types and populations that affordable housing serves (special needs, senior housing, permanent supportive housing which ends chronic homelessness, family housing, etc.), needs in your community, the development process, the financial arrangements and benefits of partnering with an affordable housing developer and potential partnership/ownership models.
Step 3. Feasibility Study.
Based on our initial meeting (Step 2), we’ll perform an initial feasibility study determining what type of affordable housing development could be built on the site. This involves study of the zoning, local attitudes toward development, the physical characteristics of the site, considerations of funding availability for different target populations, and all of the church’s goals and needs. We’ll produce a short document outlining at least one rough site plan for affordable housing on the site and the approval process necessary to obtain entitlements.
Step 4. Internal Consideration.
Armed with basic information, the congregation enters into a period of discernment which is largely driven by the leadership and the congregation itself. However, our team can support your congregation by:
· Presenting information and helping to facilitate discussions among members of the congregation
· Providing relevant information and answering questions from church leadership, including denominational leadership
· Conducting initial community outreach with neighbors to gauge attitudes and identify win-win scenarios.
Through these processes, adjustments may be made to the initial development concept(s) outlined in the feasibility study.
Step 5. Developer RFQ/RFP
Once your congregation has committed to pursuing development of their property, we’ll assist you in putting together a Request for Qualifications or Request for Proposals and distributing it to qualified developers, ensuring that you obtain a qualified development partner that provides for the congregation's goals and needs as the development is entitled, built and leased up.
The development process (the entitlement/underwriting, construction, leasing/sales and operations phases) can be quite complex. Congregations are typically not aware of fine print on contracts, and key decisions that must be made during this phase. If the church so desires, our team can stay on board as an Owner’s Representative for the congregation, coordinating and negotiating on behalf of the developer to ensure that the original plan is fulfilled.
Our Promise and Commitment to You:
Dr. Jill Shook, brings 20 years of faith-rooted affordable housing advocacy success. She has been a professor of Housing Justice at BGU and APU at the D-Min and MA Social Work departments and Housing Justice Institutes and workshops on a theology of land and housing across the US. She authored/edited Making Housing Happen: Faith Based Affordable Housing Models used on many campuses today. Jill is thrilled to be on the Congregational Land Committee to help address today's unique situation: communities are running out of sites for affordable housing at the same that time that religious institutions are losing members and funding and unable to maintain their buildings. They wish to right-size their sanctuaries and parking lots and provide the critical need for affordable housing. Some churches are passionate about homelessness have excess land that could be reconfigured to provide affordable housing at no cost to the church, but it is essential that they know what is feasible and that the housing is in line with their vision and mission. Jill is uniquely equipped to lend her skills to this powerful team of professionals.
As the leader of The Arroyo Group, a 45-year-old planning and urban design firm, Philip Burns brings the firm’s resources to the Congregational Land Committee to analyze and write zoning, develop entitlement strategies, build consensus with community leaders and neighbors, and facilitate dialogues within churches. Philip has prepared Housing Elements, transit-oriented development plans, zoning ordinances and urban design plans for Metro and cities across Southern California. Philip served as a planning trainer in the Peace Corps in Guatemala, and he has been an elder and children’s ministry director in the Presbyterian Church (USA).
Andre White serves as a development advisor/owner’s representative to local churches through the Church Land Committee. He has spent the last fourteen years working on the development of and investment in affordable and market-rate housing in California and four other states. In 2019 Andre started his firm, Mitchelville Real Estate Group, due to his realization that often non-profit and institutional organizations do not have a representative to advise and help them navigate through all of the nuances and particulars of a complicated real estate development and investment partnership.
John Oh is the Project Manager for Faith in Housing at LA Voice. His role is to facilitate the building of affordable and permanent supportive housing on congregation and denomination-owned land. He comes from over fifteen years of parish ministry in LA County and has “the soul of an organizer” stemming from his Wesleyan roots of social justice and spirituality. He is passionate about reducing environmental impact and designing greener buildings as a LEED AP with a background in construction engineering and management. John has a Master of Divinity degree from Fuller Theological Seminary.
Hugh Martinez is a 15+ year veteran of the affordable housing industry and worked for a variety of well-known affordable housing developers. He holds a Master of Real Estate Development from USC and has developed over 1250 units of affordable housing and 30,000 SF of retail in submarkets from Sacramento to San Diego. He is now a partner at Western Pacific Housing, LLC where the firm has 360 affordable units in various stages of predevelopment. He provides policy support and advice to the Church Land Committee.
What Other Congregations and States Are Doing
Garden Grove United Methodist Church entered into a long-term ground lease with Jamboree Housing Corporation, using 2.2 acres of the church’s former parking lots and vacant land to develop 47 units of family housing, 16 units of senior housing, a community center, the Orange County Head Start Learning Center and offices for multiple local non-profits.
CLICK HERE to learn more about what other churches are doing!
Successful examples of using church land:
You might be interested in seeing what other cities are doing around the country. Here are some articles about San Diego, San Antonio, and more:
Maura Chen is an artist, architectural designer, educator, and writer from tovaangar (Los Angeles) with roots in the East Bay, San Francisco, New York, and West Philly. Chen is the housing project associate with LA voice, where they work between community organizers and developers on designs for affordable housing types to be built on congregation-owned land across LA county.
Lucero Garcia is an experienced community organizer with a demonstrated history of working in diverse communities, including with interfaith communities, and coalitions. Having obtained a Master’s in Urban and Regional Planning, her interests include sustainable and equitable land-use, affordable housing, and environmental justice.
Q. We don’t understand much about building housing. Do we have to do this ourselves? If we don’t, when should we reach out for help?
Churches generally do not have all the financial resources, know-how, time and energy to take on a housing project all by themselves. They are often best served by partnering with affordable housing developers who will do all the pre-development, financing, construction, lease up and property management. However, a developer is only engaged once a church has clarified what they feel called to do, so that they can proceed with confidence and choose their development partner wisely. GPAHG’s Congregational Land Committee will help you understand and clarify your goals.
Q. Do we have to pay or sell our property?
Depending on how a deal is structured and what the project’s goals are, a church can have affordable housing built on their property, they don’t have to sell their land, and they don’t have to pay to have it built. A ground lease is a common ownership structure that accomplishes these goals. Churches can also joint venture with developers to be more involved in the day-to-day operations and management of the project.
Q. What properties are often used for housing?
Affordable housing is commonly built on churches’ excess parking lots, excess educational or office buildings, and/or even where chapels or sanctuaries stand. Sometimes new space for church services or offices is built back into the new development.
Q. Can our members live in the new housing?
Housing projects that receive public subsidies must have an open and fair application process. Members who qualify can be encouraged to apply.
Q: What if our church does not have the property zoning to allow for affordable housing?
A: Good affordable housing developers have experience in adjusting sites for the proper zoning, yet the certainty and predictability of knowing that there is a commitment on the part of the city to support the project goes a long way in helping to move the project forward. While our team can work any where in the US, our work in Pasadena is significant, with 17 churches demonstrating interest to date. Because of this our team has pitched the concept of an overlay zone to our city, making it possible for any congregation in the city wishing to have affordable housing on their underutilized land, to have the proper zoning by right. We figure this would shave off at least a year in the time it takes to develop the housing and at least $100,000 in the cost.
Q: What does this policy look like and what have you done to get is passed?
Here you will find one of the presentations we have been giving to help the community understand our proposal and to solicit feedback:
This provides details on our suggested densities, heights and designs, based on the immediate neighbors creating housing that is sensitive to the neighborhood character. So far, the city has presented this to the Planning Commission and the City Council, not for a vote, but for preliminary input on the use of city time and funds in developing a full proposal to again come back to the Planning Commission and City Council. We also developed a Fact Sheet, based on questions posed by the Planning Commission that you can find here:
There was on more step that Pasadena did—a city wide workshop. This took place on Dec 15th. We were delighted that 112 folks shows up for this. You an find the link here to the article in the Pasadena Now the next day: https://www.pasadenanow.com/main/affordable-housing-in-church-parking-lots-public-meeting-tuesday-reveals-apparent-widespread-support/
Q: What else would be helpful to know about this zoning amendment?
A: We are all learning much as we move forward and gain feedback from the community. One thing we found is that what we are proposing is geared for rental housing, but some churches may want to provide “for sale” housing, which can be done using a ground lease, but our commitment to have the overall average of the income levels of the affordable units to be below 50% of the AMI may be need to adjusted to 80% of the AMI. Jill Shook, our executive director, wrote an article what was published about our reasons for this overlay zone that you might enjoy reading: