Granny flat rentals could ease housing woes - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Granny flat rentals could ease housing woes

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 Clark County .

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 granny flats.

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 priority.

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 said.

"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, more-affordable units.

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 their midst.

"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.

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