Some SLO County cities are trying to encourage residents to build accessory dwelling units, but is it working?



If you know anything about housing in California, you know the situation is bleak.

According to the statewide housing assessment, "California's Housing Future: Challenges and Opportunities," production of new homes across the state averaged fewer than 80,000 homes each year over the last 10 years—far below the projected need of 180,000 new homes annually.

While the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development considers housing to be affordable when a person pays no more than 30 percent of his or her income toward housing costs, a majority of California renters use far more than 30 percent of their income for rent. Nearly one-third use more than 50 percent of their income for rent.

San Luis Obispo County isn't immune to the issue, and the increasing need for local affordable housing was outlined in a grand jury report released on June 20, which identified the many challenges that residents earning low and moderate wages face when attempting to find housing in SLO County.

The news wasn't all bad. The grand jury highlighted a few bright spots in the ominous housing situation locally, including the push for accessory dwelling units (ADUs). The state has been working to make it easier to build ADUs for the past few years, and the grand jury said in its report that some SLO County cities, including Paso Robles and Grover Beach, are taking it a step further by lowering or waiving some permit fees altogether.

"So the state has really been promoting this as a way that cities can increase affordable housing," said Bruce Buckingham, community development director for Grover Beach.

The Grover Beach City Council voted to waive development impact fees for ADUs in fiscal year 2018-19, a change that went into effect in July 2018 and was recently re-approved for fiscal year 2019-20, Buckingham said. The decision is in line with recent changes in state law surrounding ADUs—cities can no longer charge water and sewer fees for ADU developments, and the parking requirements are less restrictive.

An ADU is a smaller, independent dwelling unit located on the same lot as another single-family home, and city and state officials say the units could become part of a greater solution to California's housing crisis. The lower permit costs for ADUs allow developers and homeowners to build with little extra cash, and ADUs add to the housing supply without using up land and creating sprawl.

While Buckingham said each city has unique development impact fees, and the fees charged are specific to each development, Grover Beach typically charges more than $15,000 in development impact fees for a single-family home. He said that ADUs are more like mobile homes, though, which usually cost about $4,000 in impact fees.

With the fees waived altogether, applicants see more than a two-thirds reduction in fees paid for securing a building permit for the construction of an ADU, according to the grand jury report on affordable housing.

Buckingham said the city hopes these reductions and the state changes will lead to more interest in accessory dwelling units. According to Associate Planner Janet Reese, Grover Beach only approved permits for five ADUs in fiscal year 2018-19. That's a step up from the single ADU permit that was approved the year before, and no permits were approved in the two years before that.

Paso Robles has also seen a slight rise in ADU permits, according to City Planner Darren Nash. The city approved eight ADUs in 2018.

Although the grand jury report on affordable housing stated that both Grover Beach and Paso waived development impact fees for ADUs, Nash said that's not entirely true. Paso recently restructured its fee system, Nash said, making it somewhat cheaper to snag a permit for an ADU, but development impact fees still exist.

Krista Jeffries, a Grover Beach resident and founder of the SLO County YIMBYs, a group that advocates for increased housing supply, said ADUs are a particularly useful tool in battling the housing shortage because they make good use of existing infrastructure without substantial impact.

While she said Grover Beach is headed in the right direction on ADUs, she hasn't seen the city advertise or inform the public of the option. The city should reach out to its homeowners directly, she said, to tell them about ADUs, the permitting process, and the waived impact fees.

And despite Grover's extra push for ADU development, San Luis Obispo has seen a much more significant spike in ADU construction applications. SLO approved three ADU permits in 2015, according to the city. That jumped to 40 in 2018.

But only so much can be done to encourage ADU construction.

"The trouble with ADUs is they're only a viable option for those with an extra couple grand in the bank," Jeffries wrote in a text to New Times, "and they can't go upward to the scale our cities need in order to grow local businesses and increase the supply of housing in a meaningful way." Δ

Staff Writer Kasey Bubnash can be reached at

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