Jul 29, 2011

County of Santz Cruz: Affordability and Rent Restrictions for 2nd Units

Santa Cruz considered eliminating affordability restrictions on 2nd units or Accessory Dwelling Units. 

Excerpt from the Santa Cruz County's General Plan, Housing Element, dated 10/13/2009:
Page 4-87: "...regulatory reform efforts began in 2007 with the identification by staff of problematic and outdated residential regulations that added significant amount of time and expense to the permit process while no longer providing a needed protection. An example was removal of affordability and rent restrictions for second units.The Board of Supervisors held a study session and meetings were held with stakeholders to determine the scope of the regulatory reforms.
While not all of the proposed reforms were adopted, significant regulatory changes were made to residential accessory structure, second unit, nonconforming structure, site standards and other residential regulations. Staff is currently working on amendments to the nonconforming regulations with a focus on relaxing regulations to protect the existing housing stock."
However, a review of Santa Cruz County's zoning code shows that the staff recommendations did not make it into the Santa Cruz code -- there are still requirements limiting the max amount of rent that can be charged, see Section 13.10.681 (e)(4).

But it is promising to see that Santa Cruz is open to thinking about ways to remove constraints to creating more housing units. That's a lesson that would be much appreciated here in Honolulu. As discussed in a previous post, Marin County offered a limited-time amnesty for such illegally built 2nd units.

Interestingly, the Santa Cruz Housing Element specifically mentions they will be looking into legalizing non-permitted or illegal units. One of their plans for the next revision to the Housing Element is to "Explore creating a construction legalization program to legalize unpermitted Second Units and other existing Residential structures." (Housing Element, dated 10/13/2009, pg 4-117)

In Honolulu, we see many lower level or half level basements that have been converted (without a permit) into living space. Many do have the emergency egress (ie a door opening directly to the yard) but lack the minimum 7'-6" height to be considered living area. While that is the minimum head clearance required by the code, it is not the reality of many a potential dwelling unit space. 

Therefore, these areas are either built without permits or permitted as "storage" but potentially converted into living areas.

As such, they may not be equipped with smoke detectors that are required by code to be interconnected and hardwired to the other smoke detectors throughout the house. This is a retrofit requirement that is triggered whenever a permit is required for work, even for older homes (some exceptions apply).

Relaxing the minimum ceiling height to say 6'-8" for these spaces would go a long way to adding much needed dwelling units in our urban core. Many local people are shorter than people on the mainland =) and many basement situations like this are  approx 7'-0".

  1. http://www.sccoplanning.com/pdf/policy/1994GeneralPlan/chapter4.pdf (document dated 10/13/2009, accessed December 24, 2011)
  2. http://www.codepublishing.com/CA/SantaCruzCounty/   and then scroll down to Section 13.10.681 (e)(4). (accessed December 24, 2011)