Creating affordable communities

POSTED: 10/13/16

Author: Chris Rooney

Publication: Marinscope


“I think the term ‘affordable housing’ is a misnomer. We’re creating affordable communities.”

So says Rachel F. Ginis, founder of nonprofit agency Lilypad Homes, upon hearing that several laws were signed last week by Gov. Jerry Brown. “I have a full toolbox now,” she said.

Lilypad Homes works to assist in the creation of junior accessory dwelling units, wherein bedrooms in a household are converted into low-cost rental units. They’re known as JADUs, which is different from in-law or granny units, which are completely detached from the main house.

In a push to help stave off the dire housing dilemma in California, Gov. Brown signed off on a few pieces of legislation to make it easier to create affordable housing.

“The more significant new legislation is SB 1069 which deals with accessory dwelling units (ADU’s), commonly known as second/granny or in-law units, in general and makes significant changes to how local jurisdictions review and approve them,” said Leelee Thomas, Marin County Interim Manager Housing & Federal Grants for the Community Development Agency. “We are still analyzing these bills but believe it will require the county to amend our code. In general, supporting and encouraging ADU’s aligns with the board of supervisors’ goals and direction in preserving existing affordable homes and encouraging in-fill.”

Thomas has helped spearhead efforts to create affordable housing in Marin, working with state and federal agencies.

Recently, the Marin County Board of Supervisors approved a $1 million contribution to its Affordable Housing Trust Fund, and the Marin Housing Authority (MHA) secured about $1.8 million in federal funds to stave off a deficit and bolster its Section 8 voucher program.

But the latest round of legislation isn’t focused on what is traditionally termed “affordable housing” in that it’s not necessarily geared toward federally funded programs to assist the poor.

Instead, the JUDA philosophy addresses issues such as the high cost of living and housing and how people can comfortably live in the area.

Ginis, through Lilypad Homes, assists homeowners in creating housing units. It’s a revenue-generator for the homeowner, and it’s a godsend for people trying to find affordable housing units in Marin County, known more for its real estate affluence than reasonable rent rates.

“This is a no-brainer,” Ginis said of JUDAs, on the heels of Gov. Brown signing AB 2406, which allows for flexible in-law apartments created from spare bedrooms in homes.

“These rental units offer the lowest development costs for any new housing, including tiny homes! JADUs also offer the smallest impact on the environment and greatest benefit to communities, as they make both renting and owning a home in California more affordable now without the need for government subsidies,” stated a Lilypad Homes ( press statement.

Ginis said the state government is “responding to the intersection of three fundamental demographic and economic shifts that are transforming our society: one, the rapidly increasing number of retirees who wish to remain in their homes and age in place; two, the shift toward couples and individuals living alone in single-family homes; and three, the high cost of living, particularly in popular urban coastal communities like the Bay Area and greater Los Angeles.”

She said the door is open for financial aid for converting bedrooms into JUDAs and that her agency will walk participants through the process. She said there are agencies to match landlords to renters so that the arrangement is fluid, and that there are financial benefits for those willing to rent JUDAs to people on the Section 8 housing (low-income) roster.

Easily predicted, when the state creates a mandate, local officials must figure a way to make it take hold. Already, the Corte Madera Planning Commission is holding an Oct. 13 meeting on the topic “to review and discuss Corte Madera’s existing regulations related to second units, the implication of new state laws related to accessory dwelling units and junior accessory dwelling units, and the policy options available to the Town.”

It’s a safe assumption that Marin’s other municipalities will schedule public forums on the topic.

However, Ginis said JUDAs pose no threats to residents. She said about 63 percent of Marin households are occupied by one person or a couple sharing one bedroom, so converting a bedroom into a JUDA made sense environmentally and financially. It wouldn’t increase traffic or parking to add JUDA units.

Another bill, AB 2406, just signed by Gov. Brown, actually focuses on seniors being able to provide room in their households for caregivers or loved ones.

“It is not enough to pass code,” said Ginis. “You have to help provide the funding necessary to develop these units and let people know about the opportunity.” Lilypad is the small, women-run nonprofit in Marin County that sponsored the bill. Working with community and agency leaders, the organization spearheaded the initiative and established JR units in local permitting code.

The trend of creating affordable units is growing.

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