San Diego City Hall. Photo credit: Alexander Nguyen

The City Council Monday approved a series of steps intended to alleviate the critical affordable housing shortage in San Diego, including easing regulations on construction of auxiliary units or “granny flats.”

According to the California Association of Realtors, barely over one-quarter of San Diego area households can afford a median priced home. A lack of affordable housing has also contributed, in part, to a significant growth in the area’s homeless population.

Soaring residential real estate prices have severely reduced the number of houses for sale in the region, as owners of entry-level homes find themselves unable to move up. That restricts the pool of more affordable homes available to prospective first-time purchasers.

According to Councilman Scott Sherman, fees for homeowners to build a granny flat average $28,000, often more than the cost of materials. He and other council members noted that such structures allow for families to provide for relatives — and they’re often places that young people can rent when they get their first job out of college.

The auxiliary unit item passed 8-1. Councilman Chris Cate, who called it “a great solution” for the affordable housing problem, dissented because of a provision that requires 30-day minimum rentals. That requirement is designed to make sure the units are rented by residents, not vacationers.

The structures can be conversions or additions to existing residences or garages, or an entirely new structure built on a property. They can be up to 1,200 square feet, but no more than half the size of the existing structure if attached to it and would not be subject to additional water or sewer fees.

Additional parking will be required if certain conditions were met, including proximity to public transportation. The city also added a junior unit category, which sets rules for structures up to 500 square feet in size.

“We need to make housing more affordable for hardworking San Diegans who are being priced out of our city because of California’s housing shortage,” Mayor Kevin Faulconer said about the granny flats item.

“The changes we made today are the first of many steps we’re taking this year to lower housing costs and increase housing options for folks struggling during this affordability crisis. San Diegans can’t afford for us to wait, and today shows that City Hall is listening and taking action.”

The council also unanimously approved amendments to the municipal code to streamline the processing of permits for certain multi-unit developments that fill-in under-used parcels within urban areas, and reduce costly delays faced by builders by raising from $100 to $1,000 the cost of appealing certain building permits and environmental findings to the City Council.

The latter item would also clarified that appeals need to be heard within two months, and that community planning groups would be exempted from the fee increase.

–City News Service