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Granny In Your Back Yard?


Granny In Your Back Yard?

By GIMBY (Granny In My Back Yard), a committee of Healdsburg citizens advocating for the creation of an effective granny unit program in the City of Healdsburg. John Diniakos, Denise Hunt, Janis Watkins, Bruce Abramson and Merrilyn Joyce

The City of Healdsburg is updating its granny unit ordinance and needs your input to build a more effective and robust granny unit program. Would it serve your family to have a rentable granny unit? This commentary introduces homeowners to the idea, and provides a big picture view of a multifaceted program in which the ordinance plays but a part. We’ll followup  in our next article putting granny units in context with the City’s current work to provide affordable housing. 

Families invest in granny units for two fundamental reasons: they want extra income to help pay their mortgage, or they need a financial pathway to remain in their homes. Among those path choices are downsizing to age in place, providing a home for aging parents, and pooling family resources to provide housing for adult children with budding families. If your home ownership situation is equity rich and you are struggling to make ends meet, investing in a granny unit may ease your economic stress. Or it may provide a wonderful social benefit as you share your lot with a loved one or dear friend.

What’s an SDU? Shorthand for Granny Unit

SDUs (Secondary Dwelling Units) are self-contained homes; each with its own kitchen, bathroom, exterior entrance and yard. They are secondary or accessory to the main house – your primary residence. Cities use various names (and acronyms) like SDUs and ADUs (Accessory Dwelling Units). SDUs cannot be sold separately.

In Healdsburg, and depending on the size of your lot and house, the SDU ordinance allows a studio apartment – the size of a double garage, one bedroom units to 640 square foot, and 850 square foot two bedroom units.

SDUs come in three basic forms, each somewhat determined by your neighborhood layout, lot shape, and garage location. You can build a detached or attached unit, or one ‘carved out’ from your existing house.

Clarity and boldness in the Santa Cruz SDU Program  

Enacted and revised over a 30 year period, Santa Cruz has developed a nationally recognized SDU Program that serves as a model for other cities. Key to that success is the City’s commitment to 1) provide affordable housing while maintaining “a small town atmosphere…”  and 2) address neighborhood concerns around infill-housing.

The Santa Cruz program offers an integrated network of financial support, practical guidance and policy. Financial support includes low interest loans, a wage subsidy program, and fee waivers. The City forms partnerships with the local business community in service to the homeowner.

A practical SDU Manual walks homeowners through the planning, application, building, and renting process: The companion Prototype Book showcases design examples by local architects reflecting the various neighborhoods in Santa Cruz. This reference material simplifies the design process and streamlines the City’s review and approval process. Bold policy incentives, such as waiving garage requirements, provide opportunities for a much lower cost garage-to-granny conversion project, thus allowing more homeowners to participate in the program.

Maintenance of neighborhood quality is supported in the good neighbor policies embodied in the zoning ordinance. Solar access and privacy between lots are required elements of design. To facilitate collaborative solutions, homeowners considering a granny are encouraged to meet with all neighbors adjoining their lot. Public review of 2-story proposals is required, ensuring good communication between neighbors. Day-to-day benefits of on-site homeowner presence is facilitated with a requirement that homeowners live in either the primary residence or the granny.

All-in-all, the clarity and boldness of the Santa Cruz granny program shows that an engaged community has found a natural solution to meeting affordable housing needs, without forfeiting greenbelt boundaries or small town charm. 

Time is ripe to get involved

Healdsburg is currently rewriting its SDU ordinance. Mayor Tom Chambers has said, citizens speaking their minds make a big difference in City Council’s decisions and priorities. Our next commentary will continue with our aim to inform you – homeowners and renters – so you can speak your minds boldly. Together we can build a robust Healdsburg-centric SDU Program

On July 6, 2016, 6pm, at the Community Housing Committee meeting in City Hall, the Healdsburg Planning Department will present a revised SDU Ordinance for review and comment. Please join in.