The Housing Construction and Community Development Committee is currently considering the Faith-Based Affordable Housing Act (the “Act”), a new law allowing religious corporations or certain religious nonprofit corporations to use their land to build multi-family residential buildings, the size of which would depend on the population of the town where it is located.

The proposed law is a response to the severe lack of housing in New York State and the desire of religious corporations to help remedy the lack of housing. It applies to religious corporations, as defined in the state’s Religious Corporations Law, as well as nonprofit corporations that worship, conduct religious rituals, or read or study religious texts incorporated under the Not-for-Profit Corporation Law, or foreign corporations subject to such law. The Act permits them to circumvent many of the zoning restrictions and additional requirements local communities might place on new developments.

Some examples:

  • prohibits a requirement for off-street parking
  • bans prioritization of housing units for members of certain age groups
  • disallows local building or fire codes beyond the Uniform Fire Prevention and Building code, or any other requirement determined by a court “to impede a full development” of these residential buildings.

In addition, the Act requires the local building departments to ministerially review applications within 60 days of receiving them. It also limits the fees for building or other permits to a maximum of $0.25 per square foot. This Act creates slightly different rules and restrictions for cities with at least one million residents (New York City). In cases where the local government fails to comply with the Act, an Article 78 proceeding can be brought against it by any party aggrieved by the failure.

While the Act removes some of the typical requirements for the development of affordable housing, it also adds some additional ones. The key person of the religious corporation involved in the sale or lease of property must receive a certification of completion of a training on real estate development and affordable housing. The Act also requires a minimum of the residential floor area be set aside for households of a certain area median income, based on the local population. For example, towns of under one million residents must provide at least 20% of its residential floor area for households earning an average of 80% of the area median income.

The Act is currently before the Senate Housing, Construction and Community Development Committee. It is likely to be approved by the Committee given that 6 of its 11 members have co-sponsored the bill. Proponents of the bill say it will help to alleviate the housing shortages in New York State. Opponents of the bill say it revokes a municipality’s ability to shape their communities.

Summer Associate Dylan P. Feliciano contributed to this report.

Harris Beach’s Affordable Housing team is monitoring these and related development and related developments. If you have questions for our housing lawyers, please reach out to attorney Melanie C. Marotto at (716) 200-5230 and; attorney Charles (Chip) W. Russell at (585) 419-8635 and; or the Harris Beach attorney with whom you most frequently work.

This alert does not purport to be a substitute for advice of counsel on specific matters.

Harris Beach has offices throughout New York state, including Albany, Buffalo, Ithaca, Long Island, New York City, Rochester, Saratoga Springs, Syracuse and White Plains, as well as Washington D.C., New Haven, Connecticut and Newark, New Jersey.