People would be able to more easily build granny cottages in their backyard or convert their garage to a unit.
Lawmakers have made it easier for homeowners to convert garages into residential space and build small freestanding homes, sometimes known as granny flats or casitas, in their backyards. And on Wednesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed multiple bills into law that aim to spur construction, including legislation that will allow property owners to build a backyard home of at least 800-square-feet as well as convert a garage, office or spare room into a third living space.
The result is a patchwork of legislation that achieves much of what those pushing for more growth in the state have long wanted, allowing as many as three homes on parcels in most single-family neighborhoods across California.
“We’re on the precipice of single-family zoning functionally not existing,” said Ben Metcalf, former director of the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development.
Nearly two-thirds of the residences in California are single-family homes, according to U.S. Census data. And between half and three-quarters of the developable land in much of the state is zoned only for single-family housing, according to a recent survey by UC Berkeley’s Terner Center for Housing Innovation.
Owners of single-family lots aren’t able to build multiple-unit apartment complexes on their properties. But the new laws allow homeowners to build an additional unit detached from a single-family home and turn part of an existing structure into a third living space. State policies have eased the way for property owners to build such housing by stripping away local government and homeowners’ association requirements that previously blocked or slowed construction, and by curtailing other rules that forced homeowners to pay fees, install parking spots or live on the property prior to building the units.
During the Depression when we had a massive housing crisis, people converted their rooms in their houses and put in hot plates so others could live there,” said Denise Pinkston, an executive at Bay Area development firm TMG Partners and one of the driving forces behind the new laws. “They adapted their housing stock to serve the needs of the population. During this housing crisis we need to do the same thing.”
Changing the so-called character of single-family neighborhoods has become a sacred cow,” said state Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), a longtime supporter of backyard homes. “But the fact is the dominance of single-family zoning is a primary reason why California has failed to build enough housing. Allowing homeowners to add [accessory dwelling units] is one step to open up single-family zoning and help us build the housing we need.”