Allow Churches to Build Affordable Housing on Church Land: Talking Points

3 Oct

On October 5, the Pasadena City Council will consider zoning changes (called an “overlay zone”) which  would allow churches to affordable housing on their excess land (#18). This could lead to over 1,000 units of affordable housing spread throughout the city. Seventeen churches in Pasadena have indicated interest in this and one church now has a proposal for 50 affordable units!

Please use the sample letter below this picture to write to the City Council regarding this zoning change.

To learn more, check out this Overlay Zone Fact Sheet 2020.09.25 (5)

Sample letter to send to the City Council for agenda items #16 and #18.  This letter must be submitted any time between now and 2 hours prior to the Monday, 2pm City Council Meeting (Oct 5th) to: correspondence@cityofpasadena.net  

Dear Honorable Mayor and City Council members,

My name is ________________ and I am a member of _______________________________.  (your church, a club, a neighborhood association, etc..)

We desperately need more affordable housing in Pasadena! Use one of the of the following as a prompt to create your own personal one-two sentence story:

  • Our church used to be full of Pasadena residents, but many of them have had to move away because housing costs are so high!
  • My business cannot pay enough to cover my employee housing cost.
  • My aunt ??? left our city to due to the cost of housing and she baby sat for me creating a real hardship for us.
  • I had to take on extra work to cover the cost of housing and leaving less time for my family or church.

Continue with the following:

There are two major opportunities for affordable housing:

  1. Affordable housing on the Water and Power site in the civic center.
  2. Affordable housing on church land.

The Water and Power site has been sitting vacant for many, many years and is certainly “surplus” land which the law prioritizes for affordable housing. Furthermore, the need for this housing is great! Please do all that you can to speed this process along!

Churches across Pasadena are stepping up to offer their land for affordable housing, but they need the zoning to be changed to let them do that! This zoning change will speed up the process of building the housing we need and will make the process considerably less expensive, which makes affordable housing dollars stretch further so that more can be built. Please advise the Planning Commission to work with the Planning Department to make the necessary zoning change.

Thank you for your service to our community!

With your name here.

More talking points for Overlay Zone to allow congregation to build affordable housing on their excess land.

 #1: We are asking the City Council to support an overlay zone because the time to address the need for affordable housing is now, more than ever. And we have religious organizations throughout the City eager to be partners in making this happen.

 Simply put, an overlay will save significant time, significant money, and provide certainty for both the religious organizations willing to provide affordable housing and the communities where that housing will be located.

By supporting an overlay zone that will ensure the majority of housing that will be developed is affordable, the City can ensure that projects are feasible and done in a way that minimizes the need for City or other public money to make affordable housing happen.

An overly zone is needed and superior to other suggestions of incorporating such zoning to Specific Plan update of Public/ Semi-Public zoning designation so because these planning processes would not adequately address the unique needs of congregations.

#2: An overlay zone enabling churches to build affordable housing will provide new land that would not otherwise be available for affordable housing. This is a significant opportunity when so few sites exist. Using church land is a huge opportunity for affordable housing developers to have feasible and successful projects. When they work with churches, developers don’t have to buy land in advance or carry the insurance cost. They can be more confident of community support since they have the support of a church which is part of a neighborhood. Yet, if churches wish to supply affordable housing, the cost and time needed to create a zoning change on a case-by-case basis as opposed to an overlay zone, can be significantly lowered if there such a policy is in place. Plus, it makes the deal attractive to a more experienced developer.

#3:  An overlay zone enabling churches to build affordable housing will provide an opportunity for the city to significantly reach affordable housing production goals and further its goal of being a diverse community. Housing Element (2014-2021) vision:

 “All Pasadena residents have an equalright to live in decent, safe and affordable housing in a suitable living environment for the long-term well-being and stability of themselves, their families, their neighborhoods, and their community. The housing vision for Pasadena is to maintain a socially and economically diverse community of homeowners and renters who are afforded this right.” 

#4: An overlay zone that enables churches to build affordable housing provides an opportunity for churches to participate in addressing the homeless and housing crisis.  From the poll we conducted, 17 churches are interested in having affordable housing on their land, with the potential of 1,177 units if a Congregational Land Overlay Zone is passed. 95% of churches would support a Congregational Land Overlay Zone to help other churches build housing on their land. Additionally, 19 churches (nearly half of all respondents) would allow SAFE parking on their church’s parking lots. And 11 churches were open to having a FEMA trailer on their property. Twelve churches already own approximately 58 rental units. Only six of them rent at market rate.

#5: An overlay zone that would allow community minded congregations that are already willing and mission-driven to become partners with the city to meet a very real need make good sense.  This also allows religious institutions to practice their faith in a very tangible way. Community based organizations would do this sensitively and respectfully out of love for their neighbors. They will live with this for the long term, so design in keeping with the neighborhood and a commitment to good relationships with neighbors will go a long way in addressing NIMBYISM. 

#6: An overlay zone enabling churches to build affordable housing will allows for both  flexibility and certainly enabling sensitive solutions and designs for each site. Certain development standards will need to be addressed to provide enough flexibility for projects to be feasible. An overlay zone allows for the kind of certainly with flexibility to balance sensitivity to the project and the adjacent neighborhood in regard to appropriate densities and parking requirements to enhance the character of the neighborhood.

#7: An overlay zone for churches to build affordable housing minimized the money, risk and time for affordable housing developers. They cannot invest a great amount of time, money and risk into rezoning processes, and they will not take this time when there are other, simpler opportunities available in other cities.

#8: Because churches are throughout the city an overlay zone would spread affordable housing development through the city providing geographic equity and opportunity and investment in neighborhoods. The city would be wise to take advantage of this since so few sites exist especially in all areas of the city.  In Pasadena, for example, we estimate that there is capacity to build approximately 5,000 units of affordable housing on excess congregational land (the number of affordable units needed with the new RHNA numbers for the 2021-2028 Housing Element cycle). We know that not all congregations will do this, but the potential is significant. An overlay zone would ensure that any housing be built would be within city guidelines appropriate for each community. We must recognizing the power of congregations as allies with their excess land, missional orientation, and base of support in the community.  An overlay zone would help the city to go a long way toward meeting an urgent need.

#9::Church attendance is declining, Gallop says that 69% of U.S. adults were members of a church in 1998-2000, compared with 52% in 2016-2018. This is particularly the case within land-rich older and mainline churches. Some churches are looking to off-load over-sized parking lots, high-maintenance buildings, and extra space. With shrinking congregations, many churches are unable to keep up. Affordable housing on church land has enabled churches to bless their communities, stay within mission, and help to prevent displacement due to the cost of housing, the very thing that is hurting many Pasadena churches.  Should a church feel called to consider affordable housing on their property, an overlay zone enabling churches desiring to have affordable housing on their property would provide a huge leap forward in addressing the housing crisis.

#10: Churches have a successful track record of partnering with affordable housing developers to provide affordable dwellings on their excess land. Some churches have already put parking lots, buildings constructed for congregations much larger than those of today, and other space on their properties to higher and better use by including affordable housing. In partnership with National Core (which developed Marv’s place in Pasadena, the UMC church in Santa Ana will be providing 95 units, half for families and half for those experiencing homelessness. Churches are doing this because they are called to serve the community and particularly its most vulnerable residents. Yet at the same time, they are also often able to generate a modest level of economic benefit that stabilizes these often struggling, but longstanding and critical institutions of our social fabric. In some cases, affordable housing developers have even provided additional parking for a church or developed other community serving uses on a site. Adopting an overlay zone that would enable churches, feeling so lead, to provide affordable housing on their property. Such a policy would make the process more straightforward, facilitate high quality partnerships with affordable housing developers to create much-needed affordable housing.

#11: Rezoning church land is one way that the city can make right with past sins of racial inequities that served to displace people of color.  With Urban renewal, a thriving African American neighborhood where Parsons now sits was displaced, moving them away from the city center, which today is zoned for 90 units per acre. They were not given the opportunity to capture the added value of the land from up-zoning, but instead encouraged to leave. Thriving Black communities and businesses on N. Fair Oaks were also displaced because of urban renewal. The 210 Freeway pushed out even more people of color. Too many families were not sufficiently remunerated for their property to again buy in Pasadena.  And if they wanted to, banks often would not provide them loans and they often were barred from obtaining private mortgage insurance. Due to significant displacement, one church has 8 members left. Several have closed. As one pastor put it, their church building is in Pasadena, but no one from their congregation can afford to live here anymore. Rezoning church land to allow for affordable housing would serve to prevent more displacement and correct past sins.  Some Black churches are eager to provide affordable housing on their underutilized land, please allow them to do so.

#12: Churches are and have been for many years an indispensable part of our City’s social fabric and have dedicated themselves to feeding the homeless, tutoring children, raising the City’s youth, keeping people in their homes. This history of investment in the community and neighbors creates a perfect marriage with new neighbors living in affordable housing on their property.

#13:   Churches are and have been for many years an indispensable part of our City’s social fabric and but many today are on the ropes because of long term trends, COVID-19 and today some need ways to generate income and reduce expenses to be able to continue in their mission. Affordable housing on their property can do just that.

#14:  An Overlay Zone is a locally-focused solution that will do a better job than proposed state legislation. A local solution designed by the community enables us to craft the kind of creative neighborhood-based housing solutions that enhance the design, beauty and character of our city.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: