It remains to be seen whether the
Clark County Commission's recent adoption of rules allowing for the rental use
of renovated garages, carriage houses and casitas will add to the stock of
affordable housing options in unincorporated
Other communities have tried
similar measures with varied degrees of success. Portland , Ore.
and Santa Cruz , Calif. , have looked to the building of the secondary
structures, also known as accessory housing or
With the median price of a new home in the Las Vegas Valley blowing past
$300,000 and condo conversions gobbling up more than 10,000 apartment units in
the last 12 months, Clark County Commissioner Lynette Boggs McDonald said the
Commission's June 8 decision was a key to easing the price crunch.
"I am seeing an increasing number of people who are choosing Pahrump,
Goodsprings and Sandy Valley because these places are still affordable," she
said, "even though they have to drive 45 minutes to an hour to work."
To add to the regional housing woes, mobile home parks are rapidly vanishing
because the land they sit on has appreciated beyond the value of the parks. The
housing problem had gotten so bad that the Clark County Growth Task Force's
recent report identified the need for affordable housing as the region's chief
That has been an issue for Santa Cruz , a politically liberal, coastal
college city of about 55,000 people. The community's average new home price of
about $750,000 was part of the impetus for starting an incentive program to
encourage construction of more affordable dwellings, said Norm Daly, coordinator
of Santa Cruz 's housing program.
Those incentives include rebates on the cost of building permits for
homeowners who rent to people who are earning 80 percent or less of the
community's median income. The lower the income of a tenant, the greater the
dollar value of the rebate, Daly explained.
Building permits cost between $9,000 and $10,000, but that part of the
incentive program hasn't had much response.
"Most people don't apply for the fee waiver, instead opting to charge
whatever the market will bear," Daly said.
Other incentives include low-interest construction loans from the city of
Santa Cruz of as much as $100,000 for homeowners who agree to rent to low-income
tenants for the life of the loan. The overall program has been a success, Daly
"Accessory housing has increased three- to four-fold since 2003," he said.
"It allowed for more in-fill development. We were pretty much built out." The
elderly, students, and single-parent households are among the groups that can
now afford housing in the California city.
Clark County Planning Manager Chuck Pulsifer said county officials may
consider offering similar incentives to spur development of the smaller,
Pulsifer noted that an unknown number of units are being rented illegally
now, so the new ordinance allows for regulation. He said there are no plans to
hire extra code enforcement officers to enforce the new ordinance. Santa Cruz
and Clark County do have one thing in common: Both require owners to live on the
property in order to rent out the secondary dwellings.
Santa Cruz allows the owner to live in either the accessory or main dwelling.
"We looked at rules developed by California communities," Pulsifer said. "We
were sort of looking all over the place."
Clark County 's owner-occupancy requirement will help ensure that the
single-family neighborhood residents won't end up with de-facto apartments in
"I can't say that I don't worry about it, but I think the rule we are
implementing will do the job," Pulsifer said.
According to the Clark County ordinance:
* Homeowners in unincorporated areas of the county can build and rent out
accessory dwelling units, attached or unattached, if their total lot size is at
least 5,000 square feet.
* The owner must live on the property in order to rent out their casita or
granny flat. The unit can be a maximum of 1,000 square feet in non-rural areas
or 1,500 square feet in rural areas and separated from the main dwelling by at
least six feet. The accessory dwellings must also have kitchens.
* Homeowners must sign new deeds with these restrictions on them. The rental
units would also be required to have bathrooms and sleeping accommodations.
Homeowners associations' codes and covenants take precedence over the new
county law and could override the ordinance, depending on the wording of the
restrictions. The associations can also adopt new rules to prevent the renting
of casitas, granny flats and the like in their neighborhoods.
Pulte Homes' houses in Henderson 's Sun City Anthem cost an additional
$39,000 to $49,000 if the buyer wants a casita, but its homeowners' association
won't allow them to be rented, said Stacy Bruder, Pulte's general sales manager
for Sun City Anthem. The cities of Henderson and North Las Vegas don't allow
such rental uses either.
The city of Las Vegas allows rentals of secondary units if the owner lives on
the property. The main residence must be bigger than the accessory dwelling and
no kitchens are allowed, said city spokesman Jace Radke.
Residents aren't always crazy about their neighbors taking in renters, said
Dan Carriage, the legislative director for the California League of Cities. The
association of the Golden State 's 479 incorporated cities lobbies for issues
that affect its members.
"The second unit (add ons) are an odd-ball project. When they are proposed to
be constructed in a single-family neighborhood, it commonly doesn't address the
problem of parking and (the neighbors' privacy)," Carriage said.
His organization fought a proposed state law last year that would have
required all California cities to allow the smaller dwellings under what
Carriage called "a one-size-fits-all" policy. The league won, so such policy
decisions remain in the hands of local governments.
About 5 percent of the population of the state of California lives in
accessory dwelling units, according to Carriage. About that same percentage of
the population of Portland , Ore. , lives in similar units, according to
Portland State University Professor Deborah Howe.
The professor of urban studies said there has long been hesitation on the
part of cities in allowing the rental of secondary units.
"Municipalities often put very strict restrictions on this because they are
afraid they will takeover and have a zillion people move in," Howe said, noting
that those fears have not proven true.
Research shows that average household sizes have declined over the years, so
adding a renter or two brings a neighborhood's density back to what it was.
Chicago 's city council voted against a measure last year that would have
reversed a ban on converting coach houses into new apartments.
The defeat was prompted by a few elected city officials, explained Heather
Campbell , manager of community building for the Chicago Metropolitan
Planning Council . The non-pofit organization pushed for the repeal of
a 1950s ban on converting the structures once used to house horses, carriages
and their drivers.