Nov 17, 2023 - Development

YIGBY movement expects big 2024

Bethel One in Logan Heights

Bethel One in Logan Heights, a 26-unit project for veterans and seniors by Bethel AME Church of San Diego. Photo: Courtesy LPA Design Studios

A new state law that will be effective in January will make it much easier for religious institutions to build housing on their land. One church in San Diego has a running head start.

Driving the news: Gov. Gavin Newsom signed SB 4dubbed the "Yes in God's Backyard" bill — in October, giving religious institutions the right to develop their land into housing, regardless of local zoning.

  • Earlier this fall, Bethel AME Church in Logan Heights broke ground on a 26-unit project, reserved for low-income veterans and seniors. Since its land was already zoned for housing, Bethel didn't need to wait for SB 4.

Why it matters: In its 2020 report, the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at UC Berkeley said religious institutions owned 4,675 developable acres on 1,188 lots in San Diego County alone.

  • The San Diego Association of Governments estimated San Diego has a regional housing shortage of roughly 100,000 homes.

What they're saying: Matt Winter, who has worked with YIGBY and designed the Bethel project with LPA Design Studios, said he and others met with a dozen or so groups, because they felt they had a great idea, but needed to prove it with an initial project.

  • "Bethel AME was the first group who said 'yeah, we are ready and really want to do this.' They considered it part of their mission," Winter said.
  • "Most of these churches, they're land rich, so we've been talking to them and saying, 'You have all this land and parking lots you only use on Sunday, and you can bring them into fiscal sustainability in the future,'" Winter said.

Flashback: The city of San Diego in February 2022 let certain nonprofits, including religious institutions, build housing on land near transit.

  • But city planners aren't aware of any projects as of this week permitted through that specific zoning reform.
  • YIGBY, the San Diego-based nonprofit dedicated to developing faith-based land into multifamily housing, has a goal of seeing 3,000 units built on religious property by 2025.

What to watch: Advocates are optimistic there will be a surge of interest from religious groups when SB 4 goes into effect, and any property they own will be open for housing.


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