June 22, 2018

Silicon Valley Business Journal: ‘Granny units’ push gains momentum

Miguel Elliott, with Living Earth Structures out of Sonoma County, stands outside one of his organization's tiny homes at the TinyFest event in San Jose on June 15. Silicon Valley and state legislation intended to relax rules on accessory dwelling units, or ADUs — more commonly called "granny units" — seem to be gaining traction among lawmakers.
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Silicon Valley at Home Director Leslye Corsiglia talks about tiny homes with Silicon Valley Business Journal.

See the original story at Silicon Valley Business Journal.

‘Granny units’ push gains momentum

By Matthew Niksa

Silicon Valley and state legislation intended to relax rules on accessory dwelling units, or ADUs — more commonly called “granny units” — seem to be gaining traction among lawmakers.

The Assembly Housing and Community Development Committee yesterday approved Senate Bill 831, authored by State Sen. Bob Wieckowksi (D-Fremont). The bill will be heard in the Assembly Local Government Committee next week, and if approved, will be sent to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

The bill would eliminate fees for parks, traffic, architectural review and other kinds of fees. It would also prohibit a minimum lot size requirement and require that cities allow granny units to be built anywhere a residential unit is allowed.

Wieckowski’s bill would also create an amnesty program that would ease the process of approving a preexisting, unpermitted granny unit.

“Local jurisdictions have pushed these (granny) units into the shadows and Senate Bill 831 will provide homeowners with a pathway to get their preexisting unit approved and up to code, so we know they meet health and safety codes,” Wieckowski said in a statement Wednesday. “I am committed to my ongoing efforts to reduce prohibitive and exorbitant fees set up by local entities.”

SB 831 is Wieckowski’s third bill on granny units introduced in the past three years. Gov. Jerry Brown in September 2016 signed Senate Bill 1069, which prohibits cities from imposing parking restrictions on granny units if they are part of an existing primary residence and prevents water and sewage companies from charging hookup fees on the units.

Last October, Brown signed Senate Bill 229, which allowed for the construction of a granny unit up to 1,200 square feet in all single-family residential zones.

San Jose unanimously approves zoning amendments for ADUs

Efforts to relax granny unit restrictions are happening on the local level as well. The San Jose City Council on Tuesday voted 9-0 (with two members absent), to approve zoning amendments that would make it easier for city residents to construct granny units. Some of these zoning amendments include:

  • Allow two-bedroom granny units on lots that are 9,000 feet or greater.
  • Allow a second story on all new granny units as long as the second story does not create sight lines that might invade a neighbor’s privacy.
  • Decrease the minimum lot size on which a granny unit may be allowed from 5,445 feet to 3,000 feet.
  • Simplify the granny unit application process and put as much of the application process online as possible.

The council also directed city manager Dave Sykes to create a proposal for an amnesty program that would encourage homeowners to bring illegal granny units up to building code.

Tim Beaubien, government affairs associate for the Santa Clara County Association of Realtors, told the City Council ahead of the vote that the zoning amendments would help the city reach Mayor Sam Liccardo’s goal of building 25,000 more homes — 10,000 of them affordable — by 2022.

Interest in granny units grows

The Bay Area’s housing crisis has only deepened the local interest in ADUs, and thus far the units have not been met with the kind of anti-development sentiment that larger housing proposals often face.

“While large scale construction of new market rate and affordable homes is needed to alleviate demand-driven rent increases and displacement pressures, ADUs present a unique opportunity for individual homeowners to create more housing as well,” a December 2017 report from UC Berkeley’s Terner Center for Housing Innovation noted. “In particular, ADUs can increase the supply of housing in areas where there are fewer opportunities for largerscale developments, such as neighborhoods that are predominantly zoned for and occupied by single-family homes.”

In San Jose, building permit applications for granny units grew from 28 in 2015 to 45 in 2016 to 166 through Nov. 8, 2017, according to that report. In San Francisco, the number went from 41 ADU permits in 2015 to 384 the next year, and 593 through just the third quarter of 2017.

In 2017, a year after Wieckowski’s Senate Bill 1069 was approved, granny unit permit applications in Santa Clara County increased by 77 percent, according to data from Silicon Valley at Home, a nonprofit that advocates for affordable housing in Silicon Valley.

San Jose is the latest Silicon Valley city to relax its granny unit laws. The Campbell City Council earlier this month instructed the city’s planning division to look at ways to eliminate the city’s 10,000-square-foot minimum lot size requirement while keeping the relationship between lot size and granny unit size sustainable.

Last April, Palo Alto modified the granny unit ordinance that it had created in March 2017. The new ordinance restricted granny units to lots greater than 5,000 square feet but reaffirmed that there would be no parking requirements for these units. Before 2017, the city approved an average of four granny unit permits per year. From Jan. 1, 2017, to Dec. 13, 2017, the city approved nine granny unit permits with another 14 applications under review, according to a report presented at a Jan. 10 Palo Alto Department of Planning and Community Environment meeting.

Affordable housing advocates were among the thousands who attended TinyFest California, a showcase of homes around 250 to 300 square feet in size, in San Jose this past weekend. Leslye Corsiglia, executive director of Silicon Valley at Home, said that the tiny homes she saw at TinyFest cost between $50,000-$60,000 to construct. For comparison, Zillow currently pegsthe median home price in Santa Clara County at more than $1.28 million.

Corsiglia and other housing advocates are trying to change state and local laws that impede the use of these homes as granny units on the properties of homeowners.

“These tiny homes have to be installed on a permanent foundation to be considered granny units,” Corsiglia said in a Wednesday phone call. “In some cities, the cost of building one of these tiny homes equals the cost of installation.”