County changing Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) rules

There is no question it is very difficult to afford housing in our county. One has to earn more than $70,000 to afford the rent of a two-bedroom apartment locally and our median home prices are hovering around $850,000.

While there are a number of factors that lead to the high cost of housing, one way to provide more affordable housing (and also create an additional income source for people seeking help covering their mortgage) is to make it easier to build accessory dwelling units (ADUs). ADUs, sometimes called granny units, are small (self contained) units generally located behind a home or above a garage.

The Board of Supervisors believes ADUs are a promising approach to expanding housing choices in our local market, which is characterized by high cost and low availability. ADUs are located on parcels with existing single family homes and therefore do not require land acquisition or expensive new infrastructure. They can be built with cost-effective wood frame construction or as factory-built housing, and can be fit into the fabric of existing neighborhoods. ADUs increase the diversity of housing in the community and are a source of rental units that are more affordable than larger dwellings.

The Board has worked on an approach over the last year that would make it easier to create ADUs. The county initiated extensive community outreach to determine the best way to expand ADUs that included stakeholder interviews, an online survey that generated over 650 responses and two well-attended community workshops. The Board’s approach has stemmed in large part from this community outreach. As a result, we are in the process of reducing fees, changing county regulations, streamlining administrative practices as well as creating programs to assist with design, financing, and obtaining a building permit. Products will include online and print materials to guide current and prospective homeowners and developers towards successful creation of this flexible housing type. The Board has also created guidelines that will prohibit these ADUs from becoming vacation rentals. The units must be long-term rentals or an on-site living location for seniors aging in place, for example. I commonly hear from people throughout our district that they want to move their parents onto their property or even for parents wanting to move into an ADU and allow their children to have the main home.

State law is also changing in this arena, and the county has incorporated the state law changes into our current ADU ordinance. The changes in the state gave additional rights to applicants seeking to build ADUs and the state is currently considering additional legislation that will make it easier to legalize unpermitted ADUs. We estimate that about half of the county’s ADUs may be unpermitted. Secondly, the state is considering legislation that would add special districts and water corporations to the “local agencies” that are prohibited from charging connection fees and capacity charges for ADUs that are created by converting existing space or structures on a piece of property. These connection and capacity fees are very high in some cases and have been prohibitively expensive for many local ADU applicants in the past.

As always, I appreciate hearing your feedback, please feel free to call me at 454-2200.