Wednesday, July 4, 2018

California's Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) War Continues

California's legislature and Governor Brown have made one thing abundantly clear since 2016: they think accessory dwelling units (ADUs) are a key strategy for solving California's affordable housing cri-tastrophe-pocalypse-ageddon.  ADUs (also known as granny flats, casitas, mother in law quarters, etc.) are secondary, smaller homes that can be built on lots with detached homes under certain conditions, thanks to California Government Code Section 65852.2.  Many cities in California think ADUs are the devil and are basically telling Sacramento "you can pry our suburbs out of our cold dead hands."  How you see the housing market in California tends to vary with your housing tenure.  Renters and first-time home buyers are getting clobbered with high housing costs, while existing homeowners enjoy basically fixed housing costs (including Prop 13's cap on property tax increases) and get to watch our homes massively increase in value due to lots of demand for housing meeting not enough supply.

This year Sacramento is at it again.  Noticing that many cities are implementing the ADU laws with extreme reluctance, the idea is to close loopholes and beef up the rights of homeowners who want to build ADUs.

One such effort, SB 831 (Wieckowski), by the author of the original ADU bill from 2016, died on June 27th in the Assembly Committee on Local Government after passing through the Senate.  This development was lamented by urbanists who see the potential of ADUs to get some badly-needed housing supply on the market.  But when one soldier in the ADU war falls, another rises to take its place.  In this case, that legislative commando is AB 2890 (Ting), which has passed the Assembly and is working its way through committees in the Senate.

AB 2890 would do a number of significant things to make it easier to build an ADU.  It expands the rights under subdivision (e), which applies whether the local government has a compliant ADU ordinance or not, to allow "one accessory dwelling unit and one junior accessory dwelling unit [JADU] per lot with a single-family dwelling" under certain conditions, whereas now, the JADUs are at the local government's discretion.  That means you could go from one home on a single-family lot to three homes: a house, an ADU and a JADU.  It creates a similar by-right ADU allowance for multiple ADUs on multifamily residential properties.  Under subdivision (a), ADUs which can be regulated by local ordinances, AB 2890 would require local governments to allow detached ADUs of at least 800 square feet, whereas now locals only have to allow them up to the size of a studio unit, which can be much smaller.  The local government's timetable for ministerial review of an ADU is shortened from 120 to 60 days.  Also worth noting is that the bill would take JADUs from something voluntary for local governments and make their ministerial approval mandatory by essentially saying you may pass an ordinance to allow JADUs within certain parameters, but if you don't, you have to approve them per the state standards.

Are ADUs the answer to California's housing woes?  Will they overload our infrastructure and destroy neighborhood character?  Who gets to decide, and in whose interests will the decision be made?  That, dear California citizen, is up to you and your elected representatives.  In my opinion, we've ignored the housing needs of the poor for too long.  Requiring local governments to approve ADUs is a bold step, but what's more bold, tweaking suburban neighborhoods, or forcing the poor and middle class into long, environmentally-damaging commutes or out of our state entirely?