New California law makes it easier to build housing at places of worship

Los Angeles Jewish community has plans go take advantage of statute to help the homeless.
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When IKAR, a Los Angeles Jewish community, purchased a piece of property four years ago, they began envisioning a synagogue home for themselves. The community, which has been a congregation for about 18 years now, never owned their own building.

As they began planning what their synagogue and community home would be, something else became clear.

“It became really evident to us that one of the very best things we could do as a faith community buying and owning property in Los Angeles was to figure out how to build permanent supportive housing and affordable housing on our site, alongside the home that we’re building for our own community,” IKAR Director of Community Organizing Brooke Wirtschafter told The Center Square.

The community decided to embark on plans to create supportive housing for homeless individuals living in Los Angeles. Their vision is to create a 55-unit permanent supportive housing development that will be built concurrently with the synagogue, with hopes of it being completed by 2025.

But one barrier threatened to throw a wrench in their plans – costly parking requirements set by city zoning laws. The zoning rules meant IKAR built far more parking spaces than they wanted or needed, adding costs of up to $55,000 per parking space, Wirtschafter said.

An existing California law authored by Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, D-Oakland, signed in 2020 reduced parking requirements for religious institutions that build affordable housing on their property. This law, however, did not apply in IKAR’s case because the site was new and did not have existing parking.

Wirtschafter said she and other community members knew something had to change. They approached a few lawmakers about clarifying the law to make it possible for religious communities like IKAR to develop affordable housing with their new synagogue while taking advantage of parking requirement exemptions.

Inspired by IKAR’s situation, Wicks agreed to author Assembly Bill 2244.

The bill, which Newsom signed into law earlier this week, clarifies that “religious-use parking spaces” applies to both existing parking spaces and spaces required for a proposed development at a new place of worship. Under the law, developers constructing a new place of worship could eliminate up to 50% of required spaces if they are building affordable housing on-site.

In a statement sent to The Center Square, Wicks said AB 2244 builds on existing law.

“AB 1851 has helped facilitate new affordable housing development from the Bay Area to San Diego. However, the bill did not apply to new sites where housing and places of worship are being built simultaneously,” Wicks said. “AB 2244 fixes this oversight by granting reduced parking requirements to religious institutions that are building new places of worship and affordable housing on their properties at the same time.”

For IKAR, the change represents a significant step in moving the project forward; the congregation can submit development plans to the city “with the number of parking spaces we actually want to build,” Wirtschafter said.

IKAR hopes to submit plans for the project within the next six to nine months and break ground by the end of 2023.

The congregation is one of several faith communities that supported the bill and plan to take advantage of it.

Michael Davitt, the director of Real Estate for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, told The Center Square that before AB 1851 and AB 2244 became law, “it would be almost impossible to create any housing on parking lots as individual municipalities have their own parking restrictions, and most churches are [required to have] all those spaces in place.”

Davitt said that the church is currently looking at housing options on church-owned property, but nothing at the moment where either bill would apply. The Archdiocese of Los Angeles is part of the California Catholic Conference, which supported the bill.

Other state lawmakers have floated additional proposals this year to address costly parking requirements, which can drive up the development cost by thousands of dollars. One such proposal would eliminate parking requirements for new development near major transit stops.

Wirtschafter said proposals to reduce minimum parking requirements for building projects are an essential step toward recognizing “how critical it is in the midst of a climate crisis and housing crisis that we lower barriers to building housing and make housing density cheaper.”