City Council Looking to Move the Needle on Affordable Housing
Commentary by Louis Rodolico
On July 24, 2017 City Council took up item ITEM-603: Amendments to the Land Development Code and Local Coastal Program to modify citywide Companion Unit regulations and other items. San Diego is finding a way to accommodate the recent passage of California State Bills; SB 1069 and AB 2299. With some modifications, Council voted 8-1 to move forward with the basic state bills and staff recommendations for Companion Units (CU). The city is moving to modify or eliminate many of the current Companion Unit restrictions in the San Diego Municipal Code. Staff’s recommendations remove many of the barriers to building a CU in San Diego. There still needs to be a second Council reading on September 12th and a final vote.
In 2004 we were told a companion unit permit could not be issued for our property based on code restrictions. Why was it so difficult to get a permit for a companion unit in the first place? Well back then Mayor Murphy had gone on the record stating that Companion Units are low income housing and therefore not compatible with San Diego neighborhoods, this transferred down through city government. The State of California disagreed with Mayor Murphy and wanted Companion Units since they provide affordable housing and present a low burden on existing infrastructure. When Mayor Murphy resigned in 2005 we saw that as an opportunity to try once again to get our project built. Also we were bolstered by Councils 2006 vote to build the Regents Road Bridge, it looked like emergency service times would soon begin to improve. We were also told the Development Impact Fees (DIF) we paid would be used to build things like the Regents Road Bridge. My father was a decorated war veteran who was in a wheelchair and my mother needed auxiliary support to keep my father living in a house. With Murphy gone, a better ear from Development Services and the State of California interceding on our behalf, we were granted a permit in 2006. We began construction in 2007 and in 2008 my parents moved in. In 2008 two Companion Units were built in the city of San Diego, in 2016 there were ten. Council wants that number to go up and has embraced state recommendations that eliminate many restrictions. Once the approved code changes go into effect, San Diego should be permitting 100-200 Companion Units and Junior Units per year. This will help move the needle on affordable housing in our city.
At the July 24th hearing it was clear to me that Council was looking for ways to assist with permits and other fees. They could consider phasing-in the additional CU property taxes over a five year period. Development Services fees could be reduced if an owner picks a pre-approved design. Council could reduce Development Impact Fees since CU’s have a low impact on existing infrastructure. Given all the home improvements we have made with; insulation, reduced irrigation, low flow shower heads, low flow toilets, high efficiency appliances and LED lights, our house with the companion unit, is less of a burden on the existing utility infrastructure then our house alone was 20 years ago. Having your parents on your property means you can render support sooner without getting in your car and adding to traffic. Based on staff testimony fees will probably not be addressed until next year but Council may be able to broadcast their intent on September 12th since staff stated that they will bring in at least an outline of possible fee reductions.
According to Councilman Sherman; the Coastal Commission may overturn some of Councils decisions regarding restrictions on short term rentals (under 30 days). See video meeting link at 5:16:05. Many Council members stated that CU’s are for housing San Diegans and are not intended as vacation rentals. Current CU property owners are required to live in either the house or the CU, since they are not absentee landlords they are allowed to rent the other residence as they choose, this may change. If property owners are no longer required to live on site then requiring both living units to be rentals over 30 days makes sense. Council spent a lot of time discussing this issue on July 24th. Anyone planning to build a Companion Unit or Junior Unit, as a vacation rental, should wait and see if short term rentals will be permitted in their neighborhood. But if you are planning to help a loved one or rent on a monthly basis you should check the new code out in a few months. Municipal Code Section 141.0302 with a date after September 12, 2017
At the July 24th hearing the person I was sitting next to was also having problems getting a Companion Unit permit to assist his parents. The fact that it took us four years was discouraging, but with these new code requirements more properties will qualify and delivery times should improve. There is a need for affordable housing and family assistance housing here in San Diego. Companion Units and Junior Units both support that need. Hopefully a future code version will have lowered fees. I applaud the State of California and San Diego City Councils decision to remove overburdening restrictions from the Municipal Code.
Louis Rodolico has been a resident of University City since 2001 louisrodolico.com