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Granny In Your Back Yard? Part 2: Grassroots SDU Housing


Granny In Your Back Yard?
Part 2: Grassroots SDU Housing

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, Gail Jonas, Bruce Abramson and Merrilyn Joyce

In our second commentary on Granny units, GIMBY continues our aim to inform you about this secondary dwelling unit (SDU) family and community-oriented housing investment. In light of the current housing crisis, we hope that you too will have your city adopt SDU development as a priority goal.

The City of Healdsburg’s decision makers have begun a process of updating the design guidelines, rules, and policies that make up the SDU ordinance. Advocating for a more expansive program that encourages SDU development, we presented GIMBY recommen- dations to the City’s housing committee.

Although our recommendations are Healdsburg-specific and initially influenced by Santa Cruz, this prescription for a robust and effective Granny program will likely apply to any Sonoma County local jurisdiction in which the merits of infill housing (housing de- velopment within existing neighborhoods) is appreciated as a first level priority.

For towns where housing supply and costs are impacted by wine tourism, developers’ interests and real estate investment, we accept the reality that continued advocacy favoring local residents, healthy and sustainable neighborhoods and preservation of greenbelt/ag land, is necessary to move housing policies forward.

GIMBY’s presentation to the housing committee outlined the following actions for consideration: 1) Knowing our community through neighborhood mapping; 2) Facilitating financial resources and innovative incentives; 3) Identifying appropriately robust policies, zoning incentives and design standards and; 4) Creating a comprehensive Granny Unit Program including user-friendly guides.

I. To Develop a Healdsburg Community SDU Program begin by learning who we are in terms of place and community.

The confidence to prioritize the bold decisions necessary to promote an outstanding SDU development comes from clarifying local residents’ issues.

First, characterize and map the neighborhoods in Healdsburg to help define and differentiate the various neighborhood types that to- gether make up our community, recognizing some neighborhoods are homogenous and some are not.

Then, meet with and listen to the residents to understand their specific concerns regarding the impacts of infill housing on their neighborhood. is will help the City address what’s really important to the community.

While SDUs will provide additional affordable rentals for Healdsburg’s workforce they should also contribute rather than detract from neighborhoods.

II. Strive to make SDU projects affordable to homeowners by facilitating financial resources. 

If homeowners can’t afford to build an SDU they won’t. We suggest contracting with the city’s financial consultant to explore and identify a variety of traditional and inno- vative methods to incentivize SDU development.

First, pursue a program approach, beyond the ordinance, to encourage public-private partnership agreements to share skills and re- sources for the benefit of the residents and to expand financial incentives. Consider the following:

City sponsored low cost loans in partnership with banks or credit unions

local businesses, nonprofits and/or educational builder apprenticeship programs to provide building assistance

Also, fee waivers with deed restrictions, (pending new prevailing wage legislation) if monitored by the Rental Stabilization Committee and certified annually, will help with affordability.

Let’s face it, Healdsburg homeowners who are willing to invest in SDUs are providing valuable, diverse, affordable, low-impact com- munity rental housing. Could City subsidies/incentives directed toward developers building of affordable housing also be offered to homeowners building SDUs if they create a source of affordable rentals? We encourage the City to make it a priority to study a variety of possibilities.

III. Identify appropriately robust zoning incentives and design standards; integrate them into the SDU Ordinance.


Graduated building fees based on square footage

Garage conversions

Onsite parking options broadened

Homeowner residency requirement, with appropriate exceptions

Deed restricted option tied to affordable rental rates

Amnesty opportunities

Second unit “carved out” of primary residence

Design review for neighbor-sensitive issues such as solar access, privacy concerns, views

IV. Produce a user-friendly manual and SDU prototype examples to guide homeowner through process of budgeting, design, ap- plication, building, and renting.


UPDATE on Healdsburg’s process

Many of our suggestions have been taken up for consideration. at’s a success. Healdsburg is currently mired in the politics of who holds the reins of power in the growth of housing development, therefore, it’s likely any action on the SDU ordinance and our proposed action steps are on hold until aer the Nov. 8th election and in to 2017.