How “Granny” Is Quietly Easing California’s Housing Shortage

During 2017, the California Legislature took steps to address the Golden State’s housing shortage. The most publicized package of bills included SB 2, SB 3, and SB 35, which provide a source of funding for affordable housing and streamline the housing development process.

Critics have said that these pieces of legislation don’t do enough to address the actual cost of building and have suggested that the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) be reformed or that building impact fees be restricted.

While California metropolitan regions are largely built out, many single-family homes constructed during a previous era are on over-sized lots or are large enough to offer extra living space. While most people would enjoy spacious living quarters and an enormous yard, the issue is affordability. Also, extra income for property owners or retirees can be good for the local economy.

Thus, to ease the housing shortage, the California Legislature previously passed AB 2299, AB 2406, and SB 1069. These pieces of legislation require cities to allow accessory dwelling units (ADUs) within single-family residential zones.

You might know ADUs better as “granny flats” or ‘”in-law units.” The legislation defines an ADU as a secondary dwelling unit with complete independent living facilities for one or more persons that generally takes one of the following forms:

Detached: The unit is separated from the primary structure.

Attached: The unit is attached to the primary structure.

Repurposed Existing Space: Space (e.g., the master bedroom) within the primary residence is converted into an independent living unit.

Junior Accessory Dwelling Units: The units are similar to repurposed space with various streamlining measures.

Compared with new construction, ADUs are cheaper to build, and they allow families to live in established single-family neighborhoods. The drawback to the legislation is that it does limit local control by forcing cities to allow ADUs and does not allow cities to require more than one parking place per bedroom or unit or to charge additional connection fees for water and sewer service.

Cities, however, are not required to incorporate ADUs into their General Plans and yet can use them to meet their housing element requirements. Additional information is available at http://www.hcd.ca.gov/policy-research/docs/2016-12-12-ADU-TA-Memo.docx.pdf.

The sad truth is that many cities have implemented housing policy based on misinformation. Cities that have allowed ADUs for some time now have seen the benefit. Some of these units have been constructed in my neighborhood. Their occupants are wonderful neighbors, and I still find plenty of places to park on my street.

Housing affordability has reached a breaking point, especially here in Orange County. We are losing young families and the younger members of our workforce. It is more difficult than ever to move up the economic ladder; and for many, disposable income is an unrecognizable term. While members of our State Legislature often make living in California more difficult, their support of ADUs should be applauded.

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