By Zach Friend, Supervisor, Second District
Throughout California there are ongoing discussions about how to address the significant affordable housing crisis. Locally, the cost of living is a significant factor in rates of homelessness and housing insecurity.
Many in Santa Cruz County work multiple jobs to pay rent, local seniors struggle to stay in their homes and kids and grandkids grow up here just to move away after high school or college to find less expensive housing.
While there isn’t one simple solution to reducing housing costs one promising approach is to increase the number of accessory dwelling units (ADUs). The state (and many local communities) have been working to provide incentives for increased ADU construction.
Recently, the Board of Supervisors took an additional step toward making it easier for homeowners to construct an ADU. Building upon the successful online interactive toolkit on the County Planning Department’s website, which makes it easier for homeowners to design, permit and construct accessory dwelling units, the Board moved to work with County Planning to incorporate a set of pre-approved ADU plans on the Planning Department’s website.
These sets of pre-approved plans, once available, will provide residents with another expedited option for ADU construction. The goal is to allow residents to use the interactive online toolkit to get an idea of what size and scope is possible on your parcel and then to even choose a pre-approved set of plans from the County to greatly reduce cost and time associated with design and permitting.
Over the last few years the Board of Supervisors has reduced (and in some cases eliminated) permitting fees, streamlined the permit process and created a forgivable loan program (that could cover the cost of fees and even construction in some cases) for units that are deed restricted affordable housing ADUs.
This most recent action, which the County hopes to have available in fall, would streamline the process even further.
ADUs, sometimes called granny units or companion units, are one of the quickest and easiest ways to increase the affordable housing stock in our area. For parents looking to age in place in their homes, they can construct an ADU to live in while providing the main house to their family.
For people looking to obtain some income while renting a unit that is affordable by design (meaning the rents are generally lower than apartment complexes or condos of similar size) an ADU provides options that meets both of these needs.
The Board of Supervisors put in rules to prevent these ADUs from becoming short-term rentals (vacation rentals) so that these new units would really provide for a new long-term rental option for people in our community.
What does the online ADU toolkit provide?
Available at www.sccoplanning.com/ADU, the toolkit includes an overview of revised regulations designed to make it easier to build ADUs, a cost and cash flow estimator, guides and FAQs about design, construction and financing, and more.
It also includes a mapping tool allowing property owners to instantaneously determine if their property can have an ADU and the maximum allowed size.
The ADU toolkit is designed to give residents curious about ADUs easy answers to the County’s simplified and streamlined construction process.
Under the new program, most residential lots in the unincorporated area with an existing single-family home are potentially eligible for an ADU.
The County has also created simplified, downloadable guides on ADU Basics, an ADU Design Guide, and an ADU Financing Guide.
Collectively, the guides provide answers to many common questions without requiring a trip to the County’s Planning Department.
As always, if you have questions please feel free to reach out to me at 454-2200.