California Eases Affordable Housing Construction on Church Property

California Eases Affordable Housing Construction on Church Property

Church Conversions in California: A New Solution to Housing Shortages?

The Church-to-Housing Trend

The church-to-housing trend is taking hold across California thanks to a new state law, Senate Bill 4 (SB 4). This law makes it easier for places of worship to be converted into housing, streamlining the permitting process and overriding local zoning restrictions.

Examples of Church Conversions

The transformation of the New Light Baptist Church in Berkeley into a chic six-bedroom single-family home is just one example of the trend. Architect Josiah Maddock bought the church, which was in disrepair, in 2016 for $540,000 and lived inside its construction zone for years while working on renovations. He has since rented out the property, which still contains some of the church’s original architectural details.

While some, like retired pastor Barry Cammer, have expressed mixed feelings about such conversions, others see the trend as a potential solution to California’s housing shortages. The McGee Avenue Baptist Church, for example, partnered with public and private organizations to build eight new affordable housing units on its site.

Concerns and Considerations

However, some worry that church conversions could result in housing units that only serve the affluent. David Garcia, policy director at UC Berkeley’s Terner Center for Housing Innovation, notes that many churches and faith-based organizations lack experience in building and managing homes on their own. He urges policymakers to streamline the process and remove risk to help organizations move forward with affordable housing projects.

There is also concern over the decline in church attendance across the country, a trend that could lead to more churches being sold off for conversion into housing. Pew research shows that in 1972, 92% of Americans said they were Christian. By 2070, that number is expected to drop below 50%, indicating that church conversions could continue to be a growing trend.

The Church’s Role in Affordable Housing

Despite these concerns, many, like Barry Cammer, believe that it is the church’s role to help build affordable housing and repurpose vacant lots and parking spaces for the common good. California’s new law SB 4 could indeed help straining churches find new sources of revenue while also aiding in the urgent need for affordable housing units in the state.

While the trend of church conversions into housing may be controversial, it appears to be a growing solution for California’s housing shortages.

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