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San Diego City Councilman Scott Sherman teamed up with Councilman David Alvarez a few months ago to host a housing summit in which the public offered input and presented solutions to San Diego’s housing crisis.

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One solution offered was easing restrictions to build accessory dwelling units, or granny flats. Granny flats are smaller, independent units on the same lot as a single family home. These units can accommodate future growth and encourage infill development in existing neighborhoods. They are generally cheaper to build than a classic single-family home, allow for flexible living arrangements for families and can provide financial stability to homeowners, especially seniors living on fixed incomes.

However, local regulations and permit fees impede the development of these units in San Diego. There is no reason they should.

A recent Point Loma Nazarene University study determined building regulations are a significant factor in San Diego’s high housing costs – accounting for approximately 47 percent of the total costs.

Many San Diegan’s oppose making it easier to build granny flats, citing reasons such as undue strain on city services and infrastructure – like parking, water, sewer and electricity. Opponents worry the increased density will destroy the character of their neighborhoods, as these units could be turned into short-term vacation rentals.

Last year, California Governor Jerry Brown signed SB 1069, intended to reduce regulatory barriers facing homeowners who seek to build granny flats to increase the supply of affordable housing in California. The bill mandates local governments adhere to new regulations regarding granny flats. These mandates went into effect in January, but San Diego’s municipal codes are still not in line with SB 1069.

The city has drafted proposed changes to the code – those updates must be made as soon as possible to avoid confusion and construction delays. The law also offers local governments more flexibility to ease restrictions such as parking requirements and lower permit fees that have made it hard to build granny flats. Once the regulatory changes are made, the city should also do what it can to inform the public about the eased restrictions and help encourage people to build accessory units.

As rent and housing costs continue to increase, there is no arguing that San Diego has a housing problem. San Diego’s affordable housing stock is not sufficient, and housing prices will continue to rise if nothing is done. Most agree that there is no individual solution to tackle the crisis, so we will need a multi-faceted tactic to increase the number and affordability of homes. This provides solid reasoning for incentivizing builders and property owners to increase housing through building accessory dwellings.

San Diego’s city councilmembers need to push to remove the costly permit process and ease the restrictions surrounding granny flats –and they push for it as soon as possible. Kicking the can down the road is not acceptable in a housing crisis.

Our City Council also has the ability to go above and beyond the eased regulations mandated by the state. They should look at waiving or reducing as many fees as possible.

I believe the City Council is working to put in place the needed changes to streamline granny flat permitting, but without removing or reducing the permitting fees the changes may not be enough.

Mark Powell is on the board of directors for the San Diego Association of Realtors and is a board member on the San Diego County Board of Education, representing District 1. He’s also an adjunct professor at National University. Powell’s commentary has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.


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