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Granny Units May Get Easier to Build in California

State lawmakers believe too many California homeowners still struggle to build granny flats, with high fees, construction costs and regulations stalling even the most careful plans.

A handful of proposals in Sacramento would expand the years-long efforts to clear hurdles for homeowners interested in building auxiliary dwelling units (ADUs) on their property. The measures would close some loopholes and cut more red tape in laws adopted in the last three years to ease the construction process for the units.

One key measure would ban the state’s 50,000 home owners’ associations from restricting new in-law units in their communities. Another would speed up local approval processes.

Housing advocates see granny flats as a less expensive, quicker way to add housing in overcrowded regions. But some homeowner groups see increased traffic and crowding in their suburban havens.

David Garcia, policy director of the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at University of California, Berkeley, said the HOA proposal addresses newer suburban communities that can be resistant to change. “It tackles one of the remaining legal barriers to ADUs,” he said.

State lawmakers have struggled to address the state’s housing shortage in this legislative session. Broad measures to overhaul housing policy have been sidetracked, but other incentives aimed at increasing housing have advanced, including $2.75 billion in the state budget to support new construction and battle homelessness.

Spreading in-law units or granny flats into suburban neighborhoods already equipped with roads, schools, sewers and other infrastructure could bring thousands more rentals to the Bay Area. Cities from Oakland to San Jose already have loosened their own restrictions.

For example, Los Angeles has approved more than 10,500 in-law units since January 2017, when a state overhaul of ADU regulations went in place, according to the city.

One homeowner group in the Bay Area and another in Southern California have already raised concerns about the HOA proposal adding traffic and placing additional burdens on their planned communities.

Assembly member Laura Friedman, D-Glendale, and co-author Sen. Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, introduced Assembly Bill 670 to curb HOA restrictions on construction of granny flats. The units offer a “low impact way” to address the housing crisis, and shouldn’t be banned outright by local associations, she said. The measure has passed through the Assembly and is now in the Senate for hearings.

State researchers estimate nearly one-quarter of the state’s homes — about 5 million units — are governed by home owners’ associations.

The measure allows HOAs to impose “reasonable restrictions” on the units, including style and design, but prohibits them from enforcing rules that would make them difficult to build.

Near Lake Tahoe, the town of Truckee has struggled to find affordable homes for its middle class and year-round residents. The town’s largest development, the 6,000-unit Tahoe Donner, contains nearly half the town’s homes and apartments. Its homeowner’s association bans the construction of ADUs, said town manager Jeff Loux.

The resort town is a popular site for second homes, but faces a shortage of housing for local police officers, teachers and resort workers, he said. Local businesses have complained they have hard time attracting employees to live in the expensive community.

“The goal is to try to create more rental opportunities, presumably at a lower cost,” Loux said.

The San Lorenzo Village Homes Association in the East Bay is opposed to the measure. Association president Kathie Ready said the 75-year-old community is struggling just to keep its existing homes, yards and roads in good shape.

The neighborhood doesn’t have the parking or infrastructure for more residents, she said. “I’m concerned about a million things,” Ready said. “Where are we supposed to park these cars?”

Several other measures in Sacramento are aimed at making ADUs easier to build.

Assembly member Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, has proposed streamlining the local approval process. His bill, AB 68, would reduce the deadline for municipalities to review and approve auxiliary units from 120 to 60 days. It would also prohibit towns and cities from enacting laws aimed at restricting the units, such as parking and lot size requirements.

Another proposal from Wieckowski would bring wide-ranging changes to ADU law, including cutting municipal review periods, reducing impact fees and expanding the number of eligible properties. It would also ban communities from requiring owners to live on the property where a unit is proposed. The measure, Senate Bill 13, was approved by the Senate but faces opposition from several cities and water and fire districts as it goes before an Assembly committee this month.

A proposal to fund housing initiatives, Assembly Bill 101, also provides financial incentives for localities to remove barriers to ADU construction.

Ting said encouraging ADU construction is a way to bring more housing to communities with minimal disruption. “The real goal is to get more housing production up and down the state,” he said.

The ADU bills still face review from committee panels in the Assembly and Senate in coming weeks and will need approval from the full chambers and governor to become law.

-Louis Hansen

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