San Jose plans hundreds of homes on church land
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, joined by leaders from Cathedral of Faith and Sand Hill Property Company, announced plans for an affordable housing complex in the church's parking lot. Photo by Tran Nguyen.

    Hundreds of affordable homes are poised to be built at a Christian megachurch in central San Jose.

    Mayor Sam Liccardo on Thursday announced plans for an affordable housing complex in the parking lot of Cathedral of Faith on Canoas Garden Avenue. The project, developed by Sand Hill Property Company, includes 237 apartments across two buildings on a 13.4-acre parcel. Liccardo said it will serve roughly 78 seniors, as well as 159 unhoused people, adults with disabilities and young people coming out of the foster system. The developer is also planning supportive services and programs to help address mental health and substance use issues.

    Plans will go before the San Jose City Council in January for final approval, with the aim to start construction sometime next year.

    “We hear very often from our unhoused residents and many families who are struggling paycheck to paycheck (that we need) to build more affordable housing,” Liccardo said at a news conference. “Occasionally we will hear, ‘not in my backyard,’ or NIMBY. But NIMBY is increasingly being replaced by something more inspiring. In this case, we call it YIGBY: ”Yes in God’s backyard.'”

    The church, its charter school and a day care center will not be impacted by the housing. Pastor Ken Foreman said he envisions the church campus as a village.

    “We are so excited about doing what we can to help, and we’ve always had a heart to serve our city,” Foreman said. “This affordable housing really is the next step (for us) to serve families and seniors and vulnerable populations.”

    Sand Hill Property estimates each apartment will cost roughly $800,000 to build. The developer plans to apply for funding from the city and state to subsidize the project. Local philanthropists Peter and Susanna Pau of SHP Christian Foundation also committed funds.

    “Every affordable project requires many layers of financing,” Liccardo told San José Spotlight. “The important thing is to have the land. That’s the scarce thing.”

    The strategy to build on gathering places is part of the San Jose’s anti-displacement policy unveiled in 2020 and the attempt to address the ongoing housing crisis. Places of assembly such as churches often have excess land that city officials say could be used to build more affordable housing.

    The movement to build homes on church property started among faith leaders in San Diego in the late 2010s. San Jose officials started exploring options in 2021, as the local housing crisis drove thousands of people out of the area and pushed thousand of others into homelessness. As of February, San Jose recorded roughly 6,739 people who are homeless. Santa Clara County also saw hundreds of unhoused people died on its streets, with 246 dead this year following a record high of 250 homeless deaths last year.

    The St. John Vianney Church in East San Jose transformed its convent into housing earlier this year. The project houses 16 teachers, who previously struggled to pay to live in the area.

    In Sacramento, state Sen. Scott Wiener is renewing efforts to push for a bill that would rezone land owned by religious entities and make it easier to build affordable housing. Previous attempts to pass a similar measure failed in 2020 and 2021.

    Peter Pau, whose foundation has also helped fund the affordable housing project at a San Jose Police Department parking lot, said he hopes the project at Cathedral of Faith inspires others.

    “We hope that this will set a good example for other churches in the city of San Jose and other cities to follow,” he said. “This is truly a blessing.”

    Contact Tran Nguyen at [email protected] or follow @nguyenntrann on Twitter.

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