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California wants you to build a 'granny flat' in your garage or backyard. Here's why

Tony Bizjak, The Sacramento Bee on

Published in Home and Consumer News

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- They used to be called granny flats. Now, they're billed as a secret element to solving California's housing crisis.

Striving for ways to boost housing, California legislators have sent two controversial bills to the governor that would make it easier for homeowners to turn garages into rental units or build cottage apartments in the backyard.

The effort has become a focal point among California's infill-housing advocates in urban areas who subscribe to what they call YIMBYism, an acronym for Yes In My Backyard.

One bill, AB 68 by San Francisco Assemblyman Phil Ting, would limit cities' ability to say no when a homeowner files for permits to build second units that are less than 850 square feet in size and 16 feet in height.

The bill also allows homeowners to add a second in-law unit on the property, turning a single family home lot into a triplex, if there is space to build the units at least 4 feet away from property lines.

A separate bill by Sen. Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, SB 13, would eliminate or reduce development impact fees cities charge homeowners who want to add an in-law unit. It also will eliminate some cities' requirements that the property owners reside in the main house if they build a rental unit on their property.


Building less-expensive housing

Advocates say the laws make sense if California is going to build hundreds of thousands of new, less-expensive affordable housing. The granny, or in-law units, now are formally called ADUs, or accessory dwelling units.

"It's an efficient way to provide someone a home in an existing community that already has all the amenities in place, amenities that the homeowner already paid for in developer impact fees tied to the main home," Wieckowski and UCLA urban planning professor Vinit Mukhija wrote last week.

It also is a way for homeowners with big California mortgages to make some money, they argue. "By converting a garage to an ADU or building a small cottage in the backyard, homeowners can generate rental income that provides much-needed financial security, especially for seniors who may be house rich but cash poor."


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