Did you know that a congregation can have affordable housing built
on their property at a no out of pocket cost to the congregation?
Rezoning Congregations For Affordable Housing
One of the biggest obstacles to building affordable housing is a lack of sites. To meet this need, a significant number of congregations in Pasadena desire to have affordable housing on their excess land. Yet, most church land is not properly zoned to allow this use. To make it possible for any congregation in Pasadena that feels led to provide affordable housing on their property, we are asking the city to make what is called an “overlay” zone. This would apply to any church when 50% of the units to be build would be affordable. The overlay zone would:
Allow roughly a 100% density increase (i.e. a property zoned at 16 units per acre would increase to 32 units per acre).
Allow church property that is zoned “commercial” to also become residential
Allow church property that is zoned “public” to also become residential
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 Greater Pasadena Affordable Housing Group (GPAHG)’s Congregational Land Subcommittee 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.
The Greater Pasadena Affordable Housing Group (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, MHCH Executive Director, brings 20 years of faith rooted affordable housing advocacy success. She taught Housing Justice at BGU and APU at the D-Min and MA Social Work departments 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 church land committee to help address today's unique situation: ample funding to build permanent supportive housing, yet it not accessible until sites are available and approved. Some churches passionate about homelessness have excess land and parking lots that could be reconfigured to provide both housing and parking.
As the leader of The Arroyo Group, a 40-year-old planning and urban design firm, Philip Burns brings the firm’s resources to the Church Land Committee to analyze and write zoning, secure entitlements, build consensus with community leaders and neighbors, and facilitate dialogues within churches. Philip has prepared transit-oriented development plans, zoning ordinances and transportation plans for Metro and the cities of Pasadena and Inglewood, among others. Having served in the Peace Corps in Guatemala, Philip is bilingual in English and Spanish, and he leads children and youth ministry at Pasadena Presbyterian Church.
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.
Pastor 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.
Cynthia Kurtz is a representative of National CORE Affordable Housing Developers in the San Gabriel Valley. She finds opportunities to expand the supply of housing and supportive services for all those needing housing assistance. Cynthia was previously City Manager for the City of Pasadena, Interim City Manager for the cities of Covina and Santa Ana and President of the San Gabriel Valley Economic Partnership. Currently she serves as Vice Chair for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, on the Advisory Board for Leadership Pasadena and on the capital campaign subcommittee for Villa Esperanza Services.
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.
Tricia Keane is the Executive Officer of the Los Angeles Housing + Community Investment Department (HCIDLA). She is responsible for ensuring efficient, high-quality implementation of the Department’s programs including rental housing regulation and inspection, affordable housing finance, and delivery of a wide range of housing and community development services to Los Angeles residents. Ms. Keane brings nearly 20 years of experience in land use, planning, and housing work to this role.
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:
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: