California lawmakers vote to speed up low-income housing construction on church properties

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California lawmakers are considering nearly 1,000 bills in the hectic final two weeks of the legislative session. Here are the actions California lawmakers took Thursday:

AFFORDABLE LIVING ON CHURCH GROUNDS

Religious institutions and nonprofit colleges in California could soon convert their parking lots and other properties into low-income housing to help combat the ongoing homelessness crisis, lawmakers voted Thursday.

The law requires the rezoning of properties owned by nonprofit colleges and religious institutions such as churches, mosques and synagogues to allow for affordable housing. You could avoid most local permitting and environmental review requirements, which can be costly and lengthy.

California is home 171,000 homeless people – about 30% of all homeless people in the United States. The crisis has sparked a movement among religious institutions in cities across the state called “Yes in God’s Backyard,” or “YIGBY,” and a number of projects are already in the works.

But churches and colleges often face significant hurdles when trying to convert their excess land and underused parking spaces into housing because their land is not zoned residential. An affordable housing project at a San Jose church had to go through a rezoning process that took more than two years before breaking ground in 2021.

The goal of this legislation is to provide an easier path to building much-needed housing in the state, said Democratic Sen. Scott Wiener, who authored the bill.

The bill, which was approved by the Assembly, requires final approval in the state Senate before being sent to the desk of Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, who will decide whether to sign the law.

It would only apply to affordable housing projects and the law would expire in 2036.

Democratic Assemblymember Sharon Quirk-Silva, who represents Orange County, said there are hundreds of faith-based organizations and several community colleges in her district that could use this bill as a tool to accelerate affordable housing projects.

“If just a small portion of them chose to build a very small number of units, we could begin to address this problem one church at a time and one educational institution at a time,” she said Thursday.

Supporters of the bill said it could help add hundreds of thousands of affordable housing units to the state’s housing stock. According to a recent study by the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at the University of California, Berkeley, California religious and college campuses have more than 170,000 acres (68,797 hectares) of land that would be eligible under the bill.

But several cities opposed the bill, saying it would take away local control over housing developments. Environmental groups also worry that the bill lacks enough guardrails and would locate low-income housing near polluting areas such as highways, industrial facilities and oil and gas facilities.

Lawmakers have until September 14 to respond to this and other bills. Once the Legislature is finished, Newsom will have a month to decide whether to sign it into law.

GENDER NEUTRAL BATHROOM

The state Assembly passed a bill on Thursday that would require first through twelfth grade schools to have at least one gender-neutral bathroom for students by 2026.

The legislation would apply to schools with multiple men’s and women’s restrooms. The bill comes amid debates in California and elsewhere over the rights of transgender and non-binary students, including whether teachers should Notify parents when your child changes pronouns at school.

Tony Thurmond, the state’s superintendent of public instruction, supported the bill, saying it would help gender-diverse students feel safe in the restroom they use on campus.

“This legislation is a critical step in preparing California students for success by ensuring the steps necessary to have a secure foundation they can rely on; having a safe and inclusive place to use the restroom,” Thurmond said in prepared comments to lawmakers.

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Associated Press writer Sophie Austin contributed to this report. Austin is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow Austin @sophieadanna

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