Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Accessory Dwelling Units (aka "Granny Flats"): A Way To Help Make Housing Affordable

Recognizing that California has a housing crisis, the legislature passed a bill that makes it much easier to build accessory dwelling units (aka "ADUs or "Granny Flats"). According to the SF Chronicle:

The laws that take effect Jan. 1 — AB2299 and SB1069 — amend the state law  governing second units and rename them “accessory dwelling units. ”About two-thirds of California’s cities and counties have their own second-unit ordinances, but the state law is more permissive than most of them. Jurisdictions that have not adopted  or amended a local ordinance that complies with the new state law by Jan. 1   will have to follow the state law until they approve a compliant one.Under the new law, second units are allowed on any lot with a single-family home, but local ordinances can say where they will or won’t be permitted based on factors such as water and sewer services, traffic flow and public safety.The amended law will allow accessory units up to 1,200 square feet, but allows jurisdictions to impose lower limits and establish standards governing height, setback, lot coverage, landscaping and architectural review,http://www.sfchronicle.com/24hrsale/article/New-California-housing-laws-make-granny-units-10688483.php
The City of Pasadena is now reviewing local ordinances regarding ADUs and is considering lowering the required minimum lot size from 15,000 sq feet to 7200 sq. feet. 

Affordable housing advocates are pushing the city to make it easy for homeowners to build new units or renovate existing ones to bring them up to code. We hope that the City will grant concessions to homeowners who rent their units to low-income Section 8 renters. Jill has put together an excellent list of talking points. Please come to the Planning Commission Meeting on Wednesday, May 24, at 6:30 at Pasadena City Hall so we can advocate on behalf of our low-income residents and their need for affordable ADU's:

To: Pasadena Planning Commissioners

Dear Planning Commissioners,
            I am writing to ask you to support several of the staff recommendations in regard to ADUs and for you to strengthen their recommendations in the following ways:
A.     ADUs should be allowed in all Landmark Districts, with or without the units being visible from the street. 

B.     Adjust the minimum lot size from the staff recommendation of 7,200 to 5,000 since 5,000 is what the majority of comments at the community workshops recommended. Additionally because the majority of the cities chosen by staff to compare to Pasadena allowed ADUs in properties at 5,000 or less. For example. Santa Cruz allows ADUs on properties of 4,500 square feet, Long Beach 4,800, Santa Monica 4,000 and some cities have no minimum lot size at all (Arcadia, Glendale, Monrovia, LA City and County and Burbank). Other comparisons above 5,000 were Beverly Hill at 6,000 and San Jose at 5,445 and South Pasadena at 12,000.

C.     Change the staff recommendation of 800 square feet limit on the unit size of the ADU, which is arbitrarily low, and does not accommodate the spatial needs of single occupants, couples, or families residing in accessory residences to be congruent with the state maximum allowance of 1,200 square feet or 50% of the total living are of the primary dwelling.  This is what South Pasadena, LA County and Santa Cruz allow.

D.     The staff is recommending that the height limit of 17 feet stay the same. We are recommending that ADUs be allowed above garages by increasing the height to 25 feet.  Pasadena allows homeowners to have a second floor in their homes and an ADU over an attached garage. Our recommendation is consistent with this. We are concerned about privacy issues and believe this ca be mitigated by having no windows or entrances facing neighbors.

E.      While we believe in affordable housing, we do not recommend affordability covenants for ADUs. In other situations affordability covenants are appropriate, but not with ADUs. In this case it can be a poison pill to prevent homeowners from wanting to build an ADU.

F.      Just as staff is researching if the residential impact fees of $18,979.88  can be exempted, we too are recommending that ADUs be allowed a waiver, especially  in exchange for an agreement to rent to Section 8 or affordable housing (without an “affordability covenant,” but monitored in some other way. 
Given that our state in a housing crisis, with 1.3 million units short, thus pushing up the cost many times faster than wages, it is essential that you do all you can to help relieve this shortage. In addition to helping to increase sorely needing housing stock, there are many good reasons to support all of our recommendations:
1.      To create life cycle housing, for aging parents who might otherwise wind up in assisted-living facilities or nursing homes, thus reducing the cost of their care.

2.      To keep affordable housing from being concentrated in one spot and invite economic diversity and be in keeping with historic heritage. Hunt who designed our library, Bachelder and one of the Green and Green brother’s lived in ADUs. Pasadena’s broad streets with the large stately craftsman homes adjacent to more narrow streets with smaller homes, allowed the servants to live close to wealthier residents. This rich heritage of a mixed income community sets a precedent for ADUs. 

3.      To house "boomerang" kids or those who wanted to stay close but couldn't afford local housing.

4.      To provide a potential source of income when the homeowners ready to downsize, especially for seniors on a fixed income. They could live in the granny flat and family members could move into the main house, or rent it out for retirement income.

5.      To allow more money to circulate and stay in the community, through the employment of local contractors and construction workers, as opposed to large developers that are usually from out of town.

6.      To increase the property values and provide more property taxes for the city.  This is a better use of underutilized land and infrastructure.

7.      To minimize traffic by allowing people to live closer to family and work. When Cynthia Kurtz was the City Manager, she adamantly opposed to the need for a traffic study in relation to Granny Flats, feeling this was a non-issue and waste of tax payer’s money. The number of people applying for permits to build ADUs in other cities has been minimal.

8.      To prevent a possible fair housing lawsuit due to the disparity between those who want ADUs but don’t have permission to build them due to the unreasonable 15,000 required lot size and those who have large lots, but don’t have the need for them. 

9.      To help increase the city’s housing stock without the use of any subsidy. Due to limited federal funds for housing, the city has lost 85% of its budget for affordable housing. ADUs are one important source for helping to solve the housing crisis without spending tax payer’s dollars.

For all the above reasons, we ask that you allow the city to regulate the construction second units under the recommendations we are requesting.  This will help to remediate unpermitted, informal housing that can often be unsafe. Unpermitted housing exists in every jurisdiction, every geography, every demographic, and every socioeconomic stratum: unpermitted dwellings, garage conversions, subdivided houses, and occupied RVs exist across the City of Pasadena. Lack of affordable housing coupled with skyrocketing housing prices are partly due to unworkable zoning laws that stifle efforts to build legal accessory dwellings and therefore directly contribute to the proliferation of illegally built dwellings. It’s a simple calculus: when people need housing, people build housing. And when the zoning code creates barriers, people ignore the code.
            Thank you for reading our letter and taking serious consideration of our recommendations.

Jill Shook, for the Greater Pasadena Affordable Housing Group

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