San Diego City Councilman Scott Sherman teamed up with Councilman David Alvarez a few months ago to host a housing summit in which the public offered input and presented solutions to San Diego’s housing crisis.

Commentary - in-story logoOne solution offered was easing restrictions to build accessory dwelling units, or granny flats. Granny flats are smaller, independent units on the same lot as a single family home. These units can accommodate future growth and encourage infill development in existing neighborhoods. They are generally cheaper to build than a classic single-family home, allow for flexible living arrangements for families and can provide financial stability to homeowners, especially seniors living on fixed incomes.

However, local regulations and permit fees impede the development of these units in San Diego. There is no reason they should.

A recent Point Loma Nazarene University study determined building regulations are a significant factor in San Diego’s high housing costs – accounting for approximately 47 percent of the total costs.

Many San Diegan’s oppose making it easier to build granny flats, citing reasons such as undue strain on city services and infrastructure – like parking, water, sewer and electricity. Opponents worry the increased density will destroy the character of their neighborhoods, as these units could be turned into short-term vacation rentals.

Last year, California Governor Jerry Brown signed SB 1069, intended to reduce regulatory barriers facing homeowners who seek to build granny flats to increase the supply of affordable housing in California. The bill mandates local governments adhere to new regulations regarding granny flats. These mandates went into effect in January, but San Diego’s municipal codes are still not in line with SB 1069.


We Stand Up For You. Will You Stand Up For Us?

The city has drafted proposed changes to the code – those updates must be made as soon as possible to avoid confusion and construction delays. The law also offers local governments more flexibility to ease restrictions such as parking requirements and lower permit fees that have made it hard to build granny flats. Once the regulatory changes are made, the city should also do what it can to inform the public about the eased restrictions and help encourage people to build accessory units.

As rent and housing costs continue to increase, there is no arguing that San Diego has a housing problem. San Diego’s affordable housing stock is not sufficient, and housing prices will continue to rise if nothing is done. Most agree that there is no individual solution to tackle the crisis, so we will need a multi-faceted tactic to increase the number and affordability of homes. This provides solid reasoning for incentivizing builders and property owners to increase housing through building accessory dwellings.

San Diego’s city councilmembers need to push to remove the costly permit process and ease the restrictions surrounding granny flats –and they push for it as soon as possible. Kicking the can down the road is not acceptable in a housing crisis.

Our City Council also has the ability to go above and beyond the eased regulations mandated by the state. They should look at waiving or reducing as many fees as possible.

I believe the City Council is working to put in place the needed changes to streamline granny flat permitting, but without removing or reducing the permitting fees the changes may not be enough.

Mark Powell is on the board of directors for the San Diego Association of Realtors and is a board member on the San Diego County Board of Education, representing District 1. He’s also an adjunct professor at National University. Powell’s commentary has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.

    This article relates to: Housing, Opinion

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    15 comments
    Will Johnson
    Will Johnson subscriber

    SD has advised architects to submit plans for granny flats that comply with the new state requirements.  They'll catch up.  I have clients leveraging renovation loans from HUD and Fannie Mae to finance granny flats.

    bgetzel
    bgetzel subscriber

    While increasing the supply of housing is, generally, a good thing, what makes anybody think that those units will be "affordable". People who own the units will charge whatever the market will allow. A $1,600 -$1,800 a month one bedroom  rental unit does nothing for low and moderate income people. 

    Sean M
    Sean M subscriber

    @bgetzel Nobody builds affordable housing, but all housing is affordable. Developers only build market rate housing, which is sold or rented for the most that people are willing to pay. What is market rate housing today today becomes tomorrow's "affordable" housing. Those places that were nice and brand new in the 70s go for much less than newer places. The more units get built relative to demand, the sooner existing units become more "affordable"

    bgetzel
    bgetzel subscriber

    @Michael Livingston @Sean M @bgetzel As some one who has worked in the local housing market for over 30 years, including the development of apartments, I can assure Sean that there is downward rigidity in rental rates. The older apartments, generally, do not decrease their rents with age. With an ever increasing population and a finite amount of buildable land, rents have only increased. The only apartments that are affordable to low and moderate income households are those that are subsidized by local gov't or are required to be built by market rate developers via governmental inclusionary zoning regulations (i.e. a requirement that a certain % of the housing be affordable to households below a certain rate).

    Derek Hofmann
    Derek Hofmann subscribermember

    @bgetzel "The older apartments, generally, do not decrease their rents with age."

    Yes, inflation's a pain.

    Mark Giffin
    Mark Giffin subscribermember

    So if I can get a sewer hookup I could turn my trailer into a rentable " granny flat"

    Michael Livingston
    Michael Livingston

    We will not solve our housing crisis by building more housing just as we won't solve gridlock on our freeways by adding more lanes.

    Greed rules in the housing market which is dominated by large players and speculators. The government siphons off billions of dollars every year from its services to fund their lavish pensions and pet projects.  The sooner interest rates rise to more historical levels the better. That should help values plateau and give people a breather from the unwarranted price rises. Too many people seek to make their fortune off this basic commodity.



     

    Chris Brewster
    Chris Brewster subscribermember

    As Mr. Giffin notes below, allowing an expansion of granny flats without taking steps to prevent them being used for vacation rentals (e.g. minimum 12 month lease requirements) will not help ease the housing crisis at all, but will only end up being hotels. 

    Separately, It's important to realize that off-street parking requirements exist to ensure that there is enough available parking for residents in a given area. If you increase density without off-street parking (at least in areas without easy access to public transportation), you will create an untenable situation with relation to parking. In my view, off-street parking rules are essential to this concept.

    Derek Hofmann
    Derek Hofmann subscribermember

    @Chris Brewster Which neighborhood in San Diego doesn't have easy access to public transportation and also would have a parking problem with an expansion of granny flats?

    Chris Brewster
    Chris Brewster subscribermember

    Mr. Hofmann: Not sure I understand your question? I think generally our public transportation is poor in most areas. I think few people are in a position to rely entirely on public transit as a result. I think exceptions are communities near trolley stops. The point I was trying to make is that if you allow added density that is likely to include additional automobiles, you have to include a plan for offsetting that impact. I certainly know that in my area of Pacific Beach, on street parking is completely taken most evenings. I don't see a problem with increased density, in the sense of more people living per square foot. But somehow parking will need to be considered for the additional people (and the existing people) or there will be an ensuing problem.

    Chris Brewster
    Chris Brewster subscribermember

    Who knows about the garages? But the rest, yes.

    Ryan with Cupcake
    Ryan with Cupcake subscriber

    We can only address the housing crisis is to make it possible to build enough new housing to meet rising demand.


    We also need to realize that's impossible to freeze a neighborhood's character. Even if we prevented anyone from building anything, the neighborhood ten years ago would be different from the neighborhood ten years from now because rising demand and the corresponding rising prices would mean that the people who used to move into the neighborhood could no longer afford to do so.

    Mark Giffin
    Mark Giffin subscribermember

    Granny Flats are going to do wonders for Airbnb unless measures are put in place.