How to write to your elected officials in support of rezoning religious land for affordable housing…

11 Mar
Rezoning Congregational Land for affordable housing is coming up on the Pasadena City Council agenda. Ten churches have expressed interest in having affordable housing built on the underutilized land but can’t do it because of zoning. The Planning Department is making recommendations that would make it unfeasible for these churches to build affordable housing. All we need to do is convince the City Council to increase the number of units permitted per acre from 32 to 26. Please write them or speak out at the City Council meeting on Monday, May 23. You can write to them at
Here’s template with 21 talking points that you can choose from:
Dear Mayor and City Council members,
Thank you for considering the proposal to rezone congregational land for affordable housing. I am writing in support of this innovative and much needed zone change.
[Give your background and a sentence about why you care about housing our low-income and homeless neighbors. Stress your connection to Pasadena, i.e. if you live, work or worship here. If you live here, please mention your district and Council member.]
Thanking public officials is always a good approach. If your Council member has done something you support, thank him or her, or else thank the Council as a whole. For example, Jess Rivas supports rent control. John Kennedy has been a champion of affordable housing. You can also thank the Mayor for appointing a Housing Task Force and expressing concern for affordable housing. The Council unanimously supported affordable housing at Heritage Square South and the Civic Center. You can thank them for supporting these projects. They liked being appreciated and are more likely to listen to you when you are friendly. We want to win their hearts as well as their minds.
Use this talking point:
I urge you to adopt a zoning policy that will work to allow congregations to have affordable housing built on their underutilized land. The staff recommends zone changes only for commercial and public/semi-public zones, which excludes most congregations in our city. Please make sure that you pass an ordinance that works by increasing the number of units per acre from 32 to 36, only four additional units. 
Then pick one of these points and either copy-and-paste or rephrase in your own words:
  1. The need for affordable housing is “desperate,” as Mayor Gordo has pointed out. Soaring housing costs are driving low-income residents, especially people of color, out of our city. Even middle-class people can’t afford Pasadena’s spiraling rents or median home price, which is now over one million dollars. Allowing congregations to address this crisis is in keeping with the city’s mission: “All Pasadena residents have an equal right 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.” Allowing congregations to have affordable housing built on their underutilized land will help the city meet its state-mandated goal of 6,000 units of affordable housing in the next eight years
  1. I support rezoning congregational land because churches are ideal sites for affordable housing. There are many congregations already involved in helping homeless and low-income individuals with food, clothing, and other services. Some of these congregations have large parking lots that are underutilized during the week. Let’s give congregations a chance to bless our community not only with food, but also with much needed affordable housing so we can continue to see our homeless count drop.
  1. I urge you to support rezoning religious property for affordable housing because it will spread affordable housing throughout the city, thereby affirmatively furthering fair housing—a state-mandated goal seeking to undo policies that led to racial segregation and other inequities in our city. Our city has a deplorable history of racist housing policies, so I urge to make sure that churches throughout the city, but especially in the N. Fair Oaks area south of city border are zoned to allow several interested churches to accomplish their dream to provide affordable housing on their property. This will serve to provide much needed housing and revitalize this part of the city.
  1. I support the religious zoning armament for many reasons but one reason is because affordable housing brings millions of dollars of outside investment into our community and it’ also serves to generate additional local investment dollars into our city because of the Pasadena 20/20/20 rule: 20% of those who build the housing are to be local contractors, 20% of workers are local, and 20% of materials must be local. This one policy generated $6,000,000 on the N. Heritage Square project.
  1. I support allowing congregations to have affordable housing built on their property since Pasadena residents will be the main beneficiaries. Pasadena’s local preference policy prioritizes those who live and work in Pasadena. This lower driving time, addresses climate goals and builds a strong community. 
  1. I appreciate the historic character of our city and our commitment to historic preservation. I support this policy since historic churches will not be negatively impacted but given new life that benefits the community. Current laws (i.e. California’s Historic Preservation policy) protect historic churches. They cannot be demolished or affected without Council approval. Historic churches can be adaptively reused to ensure that they are preserved and useful.
  1. I am concerned that if this policy isn’t passed, when churches may close and they may be tempted to sell their property to market rate developers, since they cannot make the numbers work for affordable housing to happen. We have schoolteachers, firemen, teacher aids, small business owners and their employees all in need of homes they can afford. We have exceeded our goals in the city for market rate housing. We don’t need more. We cannot lose the opportunity to have affordable housing built on these sites. Over 4,000 churches in the US closing each year, market rate developers are seeking out church properties in hopes of making a profit. If we give churches a chance to have affordable housing built on their underutilized land, they are less likely to close and sell their property to a market rate developer.
  1. I encourage you to pass an ordinance that will help provide “desperately needed affordable, high quality, housing for all our residents” (as our Mayor described the goal of the Housing Task Force). I am asking Council to support a zoning amendment because the time to address the need for affordable housing is urgent. The Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) requires that Pasadena plan for 6,000 units of affordable housing to be built in the next 8 years. We have religious organizations throughout the city eager to help meet this need.
  1. Projects built on underutilized congregational land will not impact single family neighborhoods since they will be in areas that are zoned commercial or public/semi-public. A small percent of the 136 religious congregations with land will be able to take advantage of this policy.
10.  I urge you to support this zoning amendment because it will save significant time and  money needed to invest in building high quality affordable housing by providing prior certainty in permeameters of the housing—the height, bulk and density allowed. By  having more predictably for affordable housing developers, it will ensure that much needed affordable housing will be built. Additionally, by it minimizing the money, risk and time for affordable housing developers it also assures that will be built. Churches and developers cannot invest a great amount of time, money to rezone a property, (hundreds of thousands of dollars and years) with no assurance that the time and money spent will result in the right zoning for a project to pencil out.
11.  I believe this policy can be a big win for our city. By passing a policy that provides feasible sites that attract top affordable hosing developers because their projects can pencil out on religious property, the city can help congregations to address our city’s critical shortage of affordable housing. Ten churches have expressed interest in having affordable housing built on their underutilized land. This could result in hundreds of units of affordable housing, at no cost to the city.  It would be foolish to miss this golden opportunity.
12.  I support a zoning amendment that enables churches to build affordable housing because it 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. But this will not be possible if this amendment is no passed. The cost to and time (years) needed to create a zoning change on a case-by-case basis is an obstacle that most developers don’t have the time and deep pockets to do.  A citywide zoning amendment will significantly lower costs, by over a hundred thousand dollars making the deal attractive to a high-quality affordable housing developers.
13.  I urge you to adopt this policy because it has broad public support.   95% of churches surveyed by MHCH support a Congregational Land Zoning amendment. The Clergy Community Coalition, which comprises 76 congregations, supports this zoning amendment, as does the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance and the Pasadena Affordable Housing Coalition. When the Planning Department held a public zoom meeting on rezoning congregational land for affordable housing, only one person was not in support, among the hundred in attendance supported it. Please listen to the voice of your constituents!
14.  I support this zoning amendment because it makes good sense to allow community minded congregations that are already willing and mission-driven to become partners with the city to meet a very real need.  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 good design in keeping with the neighborhood character are of upmost importance to congregations. And when the project goes through design review will also assure that the housing is beautiful.
15.  I support a zoning amendment that would spread affordable housing development through the city, thereby 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.  We must recognize the power of congregations as allies with their excess land, missional orientation, and base of support in the community.  A zoning amendment would help the city to go a long way toward meeting an urgent need.


I believe that this amendment is needed because churches are struggling and are re-imagining how they can use their assets to benefit the community and their mission. Church attendance is declining and many churches are closing as a result, 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, a zoning amendment enabling churches desiring to have affordable housing on their property would provide a huge leap forward in addressing the housing crisis.

17.  I support this policy change because many churches have successfully partnered 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, so be better steward of their land and space, they are reaching out to partner. 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. Adopting an zoning amendment that would enable churches to provide affordable housing on their property would make the process more straightforward, facilitate high quality partnerships with affordable housing developers to create much-needed affordable housing.
18.  I support rezoning religious land for affordable housing because it is one way that the city can make right the 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. Today with the gentrification, causing significant displacement of these who were never given the opportunity to own, churches are employing out and several in Pasadena 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 curb further displacement and correct past sins.  Some African American churches are eager to provide affordable housing on their underutilized land, please allow them to do so.
19.  I urge you to approve a viable zoning amendment because 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 jobs and 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.
  1. I urge the Council to recommend predetermined standards for height and density that would allow for tax credits, the main funding source for affordable housing. This will prevent churches and developers from a long, uncertain and costly process and may not result in a zone change to make the project feasible. Few developers will take this risk, abut it took them half a million dollars and three years for a zone change before they could begin the pre-development process. We need the housing now without such delays.  This proposal will eliminate needless delays and ensure that projects are actually built.
  1. I believe that rezoning congregational land for affordable housing is a policy whose time has come. Ten other cities in Southern California are considering rezoning religious property for affordable housing, including Sierra Madre, which was the first to approve such a policy. The city of Seattle has rezoned religious property throughout the city.  They see this rezoning as a racial equity issue, as they make clear in their website: “Allowing additional density for long-term, income-restricted affordable housing on religious property helps us address Seattle’s affordability crisis and supports the many faith-based organizations eager to use their land to create homes for their low-income neighbors. When paired with the support of public funds and tools like community preference, these land use policies help address historic and ongoing inequities in housing access by supporting community-driven and community-owned development.” We feel that this zoning amendment will help address historic inequities in Pasadena as well as address gentrification and displacement of low-income residents, many of whom are people of color.

One Response to “How to write to your elected officials in support of rezoning religious land for affordable housing…”


  1. Affordable Housing Update for May 13th: Opportunities to Act Justly | Making Housing and Community Happen - May 16, 2022

    […] We at MHCH take seriously the prophet Micah’s call to “act justly, love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” Rezoning religious land for affordable housing is on Pasadena’s city council agenda for May 23rd. We believe that doing acts of Justice is a form of worship, and we are urging all of our supporters to write to city council and to spread the word to other members of their congregations. If you want help with talking points, please visit this blog post by clicking here. […]

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