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Could granny flats help ease California's housing crisis? Some advocates think so

Andrew Khouri, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

Several years ago, Patsy Spitta of Altadena, Calif., wanted to help her daughter afford a home -- something out of reach for many teachers like her daughter.

So Spitta, still working as a paralegal in her retirement years, had an idea.

She would build a backyard house and live there, allowing her daughter and grandson to leave their $2,500-a-month apartment and move into the two-bedroom house Spitta purchased three decades ago.

The only problem? A series of municipal regulations made the project infeasible.

"Then," Spitta said, "the rules changed."

Specifically, a series of state laws took effect last year that seek to ease California's housing shortage by eliminating local restrictions that made it difficult or impossible to build such small second homes, commonly known as granny flats.

Now, the 77-year-old grandmother is among a wave of Californians building second homes in their backyards, getting their previously illegal units permitted and converting their garages to rent to family or others.

"I got over 200 names on an interest list," said John Arendsen, a veteran contractor who started marketing his Vista company as Crest Backyard Homes last year because of the eased rules. "I have changed my whole business model."

Housing advocates say barriers to construction remain, but they are praising the changes, noting the laws opened a crack in a fiercely protected single-family zoning code that limits how many homes can be built on a lot in large swaths of the Golden State.

"It's the first time in decades we can (really) do more than one" home on a lot, said Mark Vallianatos, policy director for advocacy group Abundant Housing L.A.

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