In January of 2017, Sen. Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont) and Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) signed a bill to help ease the housing crisis in California, making it easier to build a granny flat in California.
This California granny flat law,
“removes the most egregious obstacles to build these units and will help to increase the supply of affordable housing in California and allow more people to remain in the communities they call home,”
Wieckowski said in a press release.
Local jurisdictions in an effort to quell granny flat development had passed hundreds of arcane regulations like requiring massive lot sizes, highly restrictive placements for parking, or even lesser known rules like a 10 foot-wide “clear to the sky” walkway from the front of the property to the granny flat, and no, your driveway couldn’t count.
Jane Blumenfeld, the former Deputy Director for City Planning in Los Angeles explained, “Before the bill, there were motivated homeowners who wanted to do this there was no way to make it work.”
Blumenfeld chuckles saying, “I’ve held nearly every job in the planning department, from the bottom to the top.” So, she understood on a granular and big picture level what needed to happen to address a California granny flat law.
She teamed up with Dana Cuff, the head of the UCLA architecture think tank, cityLAB and a UCLA professor. Together, this power duo has spent decades studying accessory dwelling units and affordable housing.
They sat down with Assemblymember Richard Bloom to write a bill that finally made sense.
This California granny flat law eliminates these esoteric regulations that were prohibiting homeowners from maximizing their properties.
What did the California Granny Flat law do?
- Any lot with a single-family house can build a 2nd rentable unit.
- Any existing structure, like a garage, can be converted to an accessory dwelling unit.
- Local jurisdictions granny flat regulations were considered null & void if they did not comply with common sense standards incorporated into the new legislation.
- Homeowners can build a minimum of 150 sq/ft and a maximum of 1,200 sq/ft for a detached structure.
- No additional parking is required if there’s a conversion of an existing permitted space or you’re within a ½ mile of public transportation.
- If parking is required, it can now be located anywhere on the lot, including the driveway.
- There are no setback requirements for an existing permitted space (like a garage).
- There are a maximum 5 ft side and rear setbacks above an existing garage.
- Utility, water, and sewer cannot be considered a new residential use connection, lessening impact fees and mandating that fees should be proportional to what’s being built.
Urban Land Institute study found that minimum parking requirements were the most noted barrier to housing development in the course of their research. By reducing parking and designing more connected, walkable developments, cities can reduce pollution, traffic congestion and improve economic development.
Plus, it’s great for local businesses!
Higher density neighborhoods mean more patrons for local business, increased revenue, and an uptick in alternative modes of transportation, like dockless bikes and motorized scooters that are popping up in cities.
Cuff says, “There’s a lot of free land in the city, and it’s in people’s backyards.”
In a state that struggles with increasing the number of housing units, there’s an easy fix, and it puts the control and rewards in the hands of homeowners.
In fact, Los Angeles has nearly a half million single-family lots. Even if only 10% decide this is a viable option for them, that’s 50,000 new homes.
With the passage of this granny flat law Cuff says cities can boost affordable housing stock without spending any money.
What will happen after the California Granny Flat Law has gone into place?
The state regulations went into effect on January 1, 2017, and rendered local ordinances that did not meet the state requirements null and void until a new compliant ordinance is adopted by the jurisdiction.
Now, local jurisdictions have the opportunity to pass their ordinances. If they choose to pass their own ordinance, they submit it to the Housing and Community Development department. (HCD.CA.gov) You can research if your local community has passed an ordinance on the HCD website.
Over the past three decades, local barriers have intensified, particularly in California cities like Los Angeles, Bay Area, and San Diego. The accumulation of these barriers like, zoning, lengthy development approval process, and land use regulations have kept major cities from keeping up with demand.
According to a Housing & Development paper published by the White House, “Accumulated barriers to housing development can result in significant costs to households, local economies and the environment.”
In a practical sense, this means that:
- There’s a lack of affordable housing.
- Families can be pushed out of the job markets because they can’t afford to live where the best opportunities are.
- The housing that does get built is disproportionately concentrated in low-income communities.
- Long commutes can place a drain on families & long commutes increase gas emissions.
What does the future look like?
Accessory dwelling units can expand rental housing options in areas zoned for single-family. They help to address the needs of families pulled between caring for their children and their aging parents, a demographic that’s grown rapidly over the last decade. They can also support aging-in-place opportunities for elderly parents, allowing a college graduate to live close to home, or just passive rental income that pays part of a family’s mortgage.
Blumenfeld mentions, “Not everyone wants someone in their backyard, but when even a small percentage of people adopt the opportunity in a city like LA, it means tens of thousands of new units.”
Cuff excitedly interjected, “We’ve estimated that there are 8.2 million single-family lots in California. That’s a significant number of potential sites and a truly progressive way of rethinking the suburban landscape.”
If you magnify that across the state of California it’s easy to see that accessory dwelling units won’t solve the housing crisis, but it’s a big step in the right direction.
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