Towards a better tinyhouse

Inventing to freedom?

Santa Cruz’s Accessory dwelling unit “promotion” program

with one comment

There are many tinyhouse-like things that have been around for a long time. There may be many other cities doing this sort of thing (seattle cottage housing and vancouver laneway housing are 2 I just happen to know).

An accessory dwelling unit in this case is roughly 500 sq ft. of habitable space, they can be detached from the main house, in which case it is essentially a tinyhouse, but the term also covers attached dwellings.

The program’s main site. The program’s manual for people considering building one on their lot. Of course you have to remember it is probably written by a committee, so while some parts just give you a glimpse into the deeply biased half formed pseudo-thought processes some bureaucrats use to decide on the rules to impose on the rest of us, other parts look like practical information. Including about zoning and permitting and for those of us that are interested in seeing exactly what it *would* take make the zoning bureaucrats happy in a city, and a sympathetic one too.

Promotion in scare quotes because this is apparently these people’s idea of promoting something, they still include absurd rules like the owner of the property has to live in the main house, 5000 sq ft minimum lot size etc. Of 18,000 single family lots in the city 1,800 are “eligible” to have an ADU. As of 2005 they were managing to get a whopping 45 units built per year. Hoo boy, we’re really rollin now, that’ll sure get them housing markets straightened out in no time.

And is it any surprise? These people and their regulations have jacked up the price of these things to what looks like roughly $100,000 judging from the figures in that doc, and even at roughly $1033 a month for a 1 bdrm apt and 6% mortgage that’s going to take forever before seeing a return on investment. And you have a stranger living in your backyard all the while. If you’d get rid of the nonsense rules and the renter can just bring their own $20k house and feel free to leave anytime they choose with very little effort, things are so much better for everyone.

You can totally do the sensible things they mention, like talking to the neighbors, ensuring their sun rights and views are respected, all that stuff. It’s inexpensive and makes a good deal of sense. Requiring that the owner reside on the property, or that it be a hard and fast 5000 sq ft. minimum does not.

There is an order of magnitude of difference in the cost vs. the benefit of some of these things, and some of them are just plain nonsense. You dig?

If producing affordable rental housing was their homework assignment, the prof would give them an F. And that’s when the government *wants* (purportedly, these people say all sorts of things) to promote this sort of thing.

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Written by gregor

November 16, 2010 at 08:03

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. Bravo! I have yet to delve further into the material that you reference but I’ve been an advocate of second unit housing (tiny to you) for quite some time. It is a fabulous and pragmatic idea in the housing realm for many, many reasons but you have justly pointed out that even though Santa Cruz is one of the few pioneers in the promotion of this concept (Berkeley is another), they fall horribly short of providing guidelines that truly make it (financially) viable, and therefore worthwhile for the public. I believe they really don’t want to deal with the homeowner backlash of these innovative and helpful units, so they make the criteria difficult and expensive for those hoping to contribute a solution to the affordable housing problem. And for those of you wanting to house your elderly parents… well, i guess you’ll have to do the numbers and find out whether it pencils to build one anyway or send them away.

    scott poncetta

    November 16, 2010 at 19:11


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