Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Housing: ADUs & In-Law Units

An interesting 'News from City Hall' article appeared this week in the Glen Park News, a San Francisco neighborhood publication.
Written by Scott Wiener, a District Representative on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, it advocates a viable method of encouraging more affordable housing in existing neighborhoods.
I think its worth a read, so here it is, quoted verbatim:
I'm soliciting feedback from Glen Park residents about possible legislation to allow Glen Park property owners to add secondary units - also known as in-law units or accessory units - into the existing envelope of their buildings. The legislation also includes Noe Valley, (another nearby neighborhood) and would track successful legislation I authored earlier this year to allow new in-law units in the Castro. (another nearby neighborhood) I'll be attending the January Glen Park Association meeting to discuss the proposal. 
San Franciscans disagree about many issues, but one fact on which we all agree is that our city is in the midst of a housing crisis. Rents are through the roof, and home prices are increasingly out of reach for middle and working-class people. We need to employ various strategies to address this problem, including building more housing in general, creating affordable housing and keeping people stable in their existing housing. 
One strategy to address our city's housing needs is to allow and encourage people to add in-law units in their existing buildings - for example, by converting garages, large storage areas or partially above-ground basements into living units. 
According to various studies, in-law units are the most affordable type of non-subsidized housing, since they tend to be modest in nature and on the ground floor. They're also ideal for seniors and people who have trouble getting up and down stairs. They can be a good option for housing family members or simply for creating new rental units. 
San Francisco has historically been hostile to in-law units, but that dynamic is changing as more and more people recognize that we must create additional, diverse housing opportunities for our residents. The Board of Supervisors recently passed legislation I authored to allow existing illegal in-law units to be legalized, and also passed legislation I authored to allow for the creation of new in-law units in the Castro. I'm currently authoring legislation for owners of buildings undergoing seismic retrofits to add in-law units while they're at it. 
The Castro legislation, on which the Glen Park-Noe Valley legislation will be based, allows owners to add either one or two in-law units into their buildings, depending on the buildings' size. The units must be within the existing envelope of the building - that is, a building's height or bulk cannot be expanded to create the unit - and must be created from spaces not currently being used for residential purposes. An existing residential unit cannot be divided to create an in-law unit. 
The Building Code will be applied flexibly, similar to the treatment of historic buildings under the State Historic Building Code, except for life safety issues. In-law units in rent-controlled buildings will also be rent-controlled. Under our City code, if a garage is converted into living unit, the associated curb cut must be removed and the full curb restored, which usually creates a new street parking space. 
I look forward to receiving feedback from the community and to discussing the proposal at the January Glen Park Association meeting.

Hopefully, this concept can be used in Bellingham, notwithstanding that our housing problems are nowhere near as severe as San Francisco's.