West Marin tenants benefit from second-unit program
Author: Richard Halstead
Date: August 27th, 2019
Publication: Marin Independent Journal
Since October, Christine DeCamp has enjoyed an affordable studio apartment in Inverness thanks to a county-funded program focused on encouraging West Marin homeowners to convert extra bedrooms into second units.
“I was thrilled to get it,” she said. “I just count my blessings.”
Tenants such as DeCamp have reaped the benefits of a program run by Community Land Trust Association of West Marin (CLAM), which has succeeded in creating 22 new affordable units over the last three years.
As part of its Landlord Partnership Program, the county gave CLAM $46,000 in 2016 and another $50,000 in 2018 to encourage West Marin property owners to provide more affordable housing units. The program aims to boost the number of Marin landlords willing to rent to tenants using government-funded vouchers.
CLAM is using a fraction of the $450,000 set aside in 2018 for the program to pursue a different approach. CLAM’s Real Community Rentals program concentrates on encouraging West Marin homeowners to convert an extra room in their homes into an accessory or junior accessory dwelling unit.
“This has to be one of the most cost effective ways to create affordable housing,” Kim Thompson, CLAM executive director, told Marin supervisors during a presentation on the program last week.
West Marin has been hit particularly hard by the affordable housing shortage gripping all of Marin, the Bay Area and the state. The number of available units has been reduced by the sale of homes for use as second homes and rental units being used as short-term rentals available via the internet.
Loosely defined as a detached or attached secondary dwelling unit with complete independent living facilities for one or more people, accessory dwelling units (ADUs) include permanent provisions for sleeping, cooking and sanitation.
State law defines a junior accessory dwelling unit (JADU) as a unit that is no more than 500 square feet and contained entirely within an existing single-family structure. JADUs must also feature a separate entrance from the main entrance to the structure, in addition to an interior entry to the main living area. JADUs may have their own separate sanitation facilities or share sanitation facilities with the existing structure. Limited kitchen facilities are required in both ADUs and JADUs.
Thompson said most of the new units have been JADUs, since new detached structures often require costly new septic hookups. But anyone interested in renting an accessory dwelling unit, second unit, spare room or house at an affordable price in West Marin can take advantage of a number of financial incentives offered by the county through CLAM.
“One of the unique facets of this program is that the property owners for Real Community Rentals do not receive subsidies from the Marin Housing Authority,” Thompson said. “They are all choosing to rent at below market rates.”
Financial incentives include money to help cover tenants’ security deposits up to $2,500, and up to $3,000 to compensate property owners for unforeseen short-term vacancies or damages exceeding security deposits.
The incentives also include zero-interest loans up to $25,000 with principal deferred for funds to repair or rehab rental units; zero-interest loans up to $35,000 with principal deferred for funds to create a private apartment from a spare bedroom; zero-interest loans up to $35,000 with principal deferred for funds to create a second unit; and waived or reduced building permit fees for certain repairs or improvements.
In addition, CLAM assists property owners by reviewing rental agreements and pre-screening tenants.
To qualify for these incentives, however, property owners must agree to charge what the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development defines as an affordable rent, which is not more than a third of a family’s income. According to CLAM’s estimates, a farmer in Marin is likely to earn an annual salary of no more than $28,000, so the maximum allowable rent would be $770 a month. A teacher who earns a salary of $70,000 a year could be charged a maximum rent of $1,925.
At Tuesday’s meeting, CLAM screened a video featuring some of the property owners and tenants who have taken advantage of the program.
“A junior unit is the perfect solution for our situation,” said Ruth Lopez, a CLAM program manager. “Now that our daughters are grown and gone we have an extra bedroom. So we created a junior unit from the bedroom and now we have a tenant and rental income.
Charisse Electra Stewart, who lives in a JADU, said, “I got rid of a few things to fit in but it’s mine and it’s affordable. To have my very own piece of Point Reyes is really important. This is where my community is.”
Will Hubert said, “Living in a junior second unit is the best thing that ever happened to me. It’s forced me to live simply. Also I get to share things with my landmates. It creates community. Homeowners and tenants can benefit from junior second units.”
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