Opinion: Homes For Whittier Says We Should Build Granny Flats

Opinion: Homes For Whittier Says We Should Build Granny Flats

We had an interesting Homes For Whittier meeting last Sunday! The goal was to refine a list of local housing policy ideas for an upcoming meeting (on Monday 1/20, 6:30 P.M., at First Christian Church) of a coalition to confront homelessness and housing affordability issues in Whittier.

Refine we did, and honestly, we ran out of time and didn’t even get to them all. What follows is an overview of what we came up with. Do you like these ideas, or did we miss the mark? Let us know in the comments.

Granny Flats, AKA Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs)

Sacramento keeps making it easier to build a backyard home and new ADU-facilitating bills went into effect on January 1st. Whittier’s current ADU ordinance is out of compliance and needs to be updated. Having an ADU ordinance is a city’s official acknowledgement of the ADU laws. Although it can mean more rules, it also means more predictability in how Whittier will handle your application to build one.

Speaking of those rules, people need flexibility to build an ADU on top of a garage (pictured). This lets people save their back yards and parking, if that’s what suits them better.

Honestly, having a legally sound ADU ordinance is just the beginning. Whittier should be actively promoting ADUs (e.g. City website, bill inserts, Parks and Rec classes), letting people know that building one is an option, making sure fees are reasonable and in line with other cities, making standard plans available, and making low-interest loans or other financial help available for construction.

ADUs should be available as long-term housing, not swallowed up by the short-term rental market.

Housing is too expensive in part because there isn’t enough of it, and ADUs are an excellent way to chip away at that problem.

AB 1482, the Rent Cap Bill

About 43% of households in Whittier are renters. Assembly Bill 1482 went into effect on January 1st, meaning that many residential tenants in California enjoy new protections from large rent increases.

The maximum rent increase is 5% plus inflation per year for homes that are covered (which does not include single-family homes or other homes built within the last 15 years). It also protects tenants from eviction without just cause.

The Whittier city government shouldn’t just be sitting on its hands; it should be actively educating tenants about their rights under AB 1482 to promote housing security for all and to keep a lid on any shenanigans certain landlords might try to pull.

Rent Stabilization

Rent control or stabilization for people who rent their homes in Whittier is something we decided we should support. Rent stabilization is disfavored by some economists over concerns such as it acting as a disincentive to build housing or maintain it properly.

However, on the other hand, many people are suffering under large rent increases now and need relief beyond what AB 1482 provides, while we work on other solutions like ending the housing shortage and funding affordable housing.

A nuanced rent stabilization measure can address some of the potential pitfalls while providing relief to tenants. Local rent stabilization has to comply with a state law called Costa Hawkins, which prohibits rent control on single-family homes and homes built since the mid- ‘90s. It also has to allow a reasonable return to landlords to avoid being considered a “taking” of property without just compensation.

Our rent stabilization measure would cap rent increases more aggressively than AB 1482 and index rent increases to WAGE growth, not general inflation. Exact details are TBD.

Producing Affordable Housing

We need to make sure that the City is open to development proposals that include affordable housing and not throwing up obstacles to them behind closed doors. We also need to educate the public on upcoming elections, including the upcoming election on TUESDAY MARCH 3RD.

Some elected officials are more affordable housing-friendly than others, and we need to turn out voters who care about housing affordability and know where the candidates stand.

Shelter for People Experiencing Homelessness

Navigation centers are a good model as practiced in San Francisco. These shelters provide beds, lockers, social workers, and services to support residents. While there are some rules (e.g., be sober on site), the goal is to not discourage participation with excessive rules.

Allowing pets at shelters means people are more likely to take part. Sometimes pets are one of the few positive things in an otherwise tough existence on the street.

Shelters don’t necessarily have to be on City of Whittier-owned land because the City can lease land. We need to do more research on how to fund shelters and the cost savings of housing people instead of letting them cycle through other public services on the street.

Shelters are a good thing and we need to distribute them equitably across the City, ideally in every Council district.

Vacancy Tax

A tax on vacant property, if carefully designed, could raise badly-needed funds for affordable housing and give landlords an incentive not to hold out for unreasonable rents. Oakland seems to have a promising model, and more research is needed.

Reprinted with permission. Homes For Whittier is a pro-housing advocacy group investigating and recommending policies to amend Whittier’s shortage of affordable, transitional, supportive, and emergency housing.

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