In an effort to ease the process homeowners undertake to build accessory dwelling units, San Mateo County officials are creating a program aimed at consolidating planning and permitting information for secondary units and guiding homeowners through building and finding tenants for them.

One of several strategies used to boost affordable housing, finding ways to encourage homeowners to consider building accessory dwelling units — also known as secondary, granny or in-law units — has long been a focus for county housing officials, said Ken Cole, director of county’s Housing Department, at the Board of Supervisors’ meeting Tuesday, Aug. 6.

Spurred by a recommendation by a task force aimed at closing the gap between the number of jobs and housing units in the county, an online suite of resources designed to guide homeowners through the process of planning for and managing a construction project was developed and posted on the website of Home for All, a collaborative which gathers housing resources and information and has helped implement housing-related ordinances, according to a staff report.

But despite the availability of resources dedicated to accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, Cole acknowledged many homeowners are still overwhelmed by the finances and complex set of rules governing ADUs, among other factors. By contracting with the affordable housing nonprofit Hello Housing to conduct a three-year pilot program, county housing officials are hoping to work with individual homeowners in three cities to develop and share best practices on what can be for many a daunting project, he said.

“Even for people who have some expertise in construction, understand a bit about planning, [they] often get discouraged at the front end when they’re interested in creating a second unit,” he said, according to a video of the meeting.

Pilot cities

Dubbed the Second Unit One Stop Shop Pilot Program, the set of resources officials are hoping to develop with homeowners over the next three years will be tested in East Palo Alto, Pacifica, Redwood City and unincorporated San Mateo County with the goal of sharing best practices with the rest of the county through Home for All, noted Cole.

Jennifer Duffy, vice president at Hello Housing, said the nonprofit has worked with the county officials in the last year to explore how homeowners can help address the regional housing shortage and better understand the barriers they face in providing much-needed housing on their properties. Whether it’s puzzling over how to assemble the capital needed for an ADU or trying to make sense of new state laws regulating how they can be built, homeowners face a variety of challenges once they decide to embark on a project, she said.

Acknowledging the potential impact of single-family homeowners opting to build ADUs on their properties, Duffy hoped the effort could help provide equal opportunity among homeowners to pursue these projects.

“We have got to create greater access, greater equality around how this product type can be created,” she said.

By guiding them through everything from estimating the cost of a project to helping them find someone to rent an ADU once it’s completed, officials and Hello Housing are hoping to identify what strategies work best when it comes to incentivizing ADU production, said Duffy. She said Hello Housing is planning to work with the county and its partners to help homeowners selected for the pilot plan their projects, obtain required permits, hire contractors for ADU construction, ensure the project is managed and help prepare homeowners to become landlords.

Though the number of homeowners to be selected to participate in the program is yet to be finalized, Duffy estimated the $50,000 each of the three cities contributed to the program could initially fund the support of some four to five homeowners in each pilot city. The pilot cities will also work with Hello Housing and county officials to develop minimum requirements for homeowners interested in the program, such as limits on household income, commitment to charge affordable rent for a specific term and access to funding, among other criteria, according to a staff report.

High interest anticipated

Deputy County Manager Peggy Jensen expected interest in the program to be high, noting county planners previously issued some 40 permits to build ADUs annually but that number has grown in recent years to the point where they issued 250 ADU permits last year. Having observed well-attended meetings in the county focused on ADUs, Jensen felt the Second Unit One Stop Shop Pilot Program could serve as one central source of information anyone could access to get help with a range of obstacles.

In response to Supervisor David Canepa’s question about the county’s progress with ensuring housing units are being built at different levels of affordability, Cole said progress is being made with building market-rate homes while lower-income units are coming online more slowly and also with the help of supervisors’ contributions of Measure K funds toward affordable housing. Measure K is half-cent sales tax for county services that the Board of Supervisors earmarked a significant portion of for housing programs, and officials approved $325,000 in Measure K funds toward the pilot program Tuesday.

Wide range of strategies

Though he acknowledged ADUs provide less housing than a 400-unit development, Cole said they can be a critical strategy for ensuring units are built for lower-income families, noting they can be matched with teachers or government employees.

For Supervisor Dave Pine, the exploration of ways to incentivize ADU production in the county was well worth the effort. Acknowledging county officials have to pursue a range of strategies for boosting affordable units in the county, Pine pointed out that some 70% of the properties in the county are zoned for single-family homes, which makes for a lot of potential ADUs.

“I think we’re all well aware that ADUs is maybe the best tool we have in the tool kit to create more housing in the county rapidly,” he said. “This is a terrific effort.”

Visit secondunitcentersmc.org for more information.

(650) 344-5200 ext. 106

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