'Yes In God's Backyard' Offers a New Way Forward for Housing Advocates

San Diego housing advocates have coined a new term: "YIGBY," or "Yes in God's Backyard," to advance prospects for affordable housing development on property underutilized by houses of worship. The city's planning department is receptive.

August 7, 2019, 10:00 AM PDT

By Philip Rojc @PhilipRojc


Church

Emmett Tullos / Flickr

When the congregation of Clairemont Lutheran Church in San Diego began exploring what it would take to build affordable housing on site, they quickly hit snags. "The congregation didn't fit the characteristic of affordable housing builders; the city had no official planning process to approve a small housing development on church property; the congregation couldn't afford the environmental impact report required to build on its parking lot," Emily Nonko writes. 

That's when local housing advocates Tom Theisen and Monica Ball stepped in. "The pair were intrigued by a list compiled by the San Diego County Tax Collector, which showed the county had over 1,000 properties zoned for religious use, on over 2,000 acres of land. Much of that land was already zoned for housing," Nonko writes.

Theisen and Ball coined the term YIGBY, or "Yes in God's Backyard," to describe what might be possible on that underutilized land. And San Diego's planning department is listening, Nonko reports. YIGBY advocates want to open housing at Clairemont Lutheran by the end of this year as a proof of concept for projects to come. 

The synergies here are encouraging. Land cost isn't a factor if houses of worship already own the property. And churches often have underutilized land, including parking lots, and a pressing need to generate revenue in line with their humanitarian goals. NIMBYism is also likely to be muted or nonexistent when a local place of worship acts as the developer.

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