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Religious institutions want AZ law to allow low-income housing on their property

Religious leaders from across Arizona say the state’s affordable housing shortage has become a crisis, and they’re calling on lawmakers to allow more flexibility for their institutions to help.

In a press conference at the state Capitol on Thursday, the Valley Interfaith Project, a nonpartisan group of faith leaders, spoke in favor of  an Arizona House bill nicknamed “Yes in God’s Backyard.” They said many religious institutions own land that could be used to build affordable housing. The bill would adjust zoning restrictions to allow that. 

"None of our churches have the resources to solve the crisis of affordable housing and homelessness," said Bishop Jennifer Reddall with the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona. "What we do have, in many cases, is property. We have churches with empty spaces on their lots that could help families in need by being developed into affordable housing. We could build housing that helps seniors, and low-income folks and veterans."

The Rev. Hunter Ruffin, with Church of the Epiphany - Tempe, said sheltering those in need is a moral issue for people of faith. And he said it’s something that more and more frequently impacts congregations like his.

"We hear stories all the time about parishioners facing evictions or drastic rent increases," Ruffin said. "Our front offices are besieged with calls asking for help paying rent. People experiencing homelessness live on our campuses." 

In addition to the religious institution zoning bill, the Valley Interfaith Project also wants lawmakers to pass  a bill to renew the state’s low-income housing tax credit, which helps fund affordable housing development. That tax credit is currently set to expire in 2025.

Speakers at the press conference said they felt optimistic about the bills, since both have bipartisan sponsorship. 

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Katherine Davis-Young is a senior field correspondent reporting on a variety of issues, including public health and climate change.