Panel praises ‘adult dorm’ rentals


Encinitas is taking steps to make it easier for people to build dormitory-style rental units geared toward adult occupants, rather than fresh-faced college kids.

The city’s Planning Commission unanimously agreed Thursday, Sept. 5, to recommend approval of the proposal, plus two other proposed ordinances aimed at increasing the city’s low-income housing supply. One of them supports farm worker housing and the other makes it easier to renovate homes to accommodate disabled people’s needs. Next, the three items head to the City Council and ultimately the state Coastal Commission, which has review authority over the city’s coastal region.

“This ordinance is tailor-made to deal with some of the issues our less well-off residents deal with,” Commissioner Kevin Doyle said as he described why he was supporting the room-rental proposal.

Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York City are all experimenting with what have been described as “grown-up dormitories” — places where people rent a room with space for a bed and possibly a bathroom, but share other facilities, including kitchen space. In a 2015 article, The Atlantic magazine declared that adult dorms might become the perfect solution for lonely millennials, while a 2018 New York Times article called them the latest great experiment in communal living.

In Encinitas, the proposed dorm ordinance defines single-room rental units as being at least 150 square feet, but no larger than 500 square feet. The space may include a bathroom, or a partial bath, but that isn’t required. The unit’s occupant will have access to a shared kitchen space and laundry facilities, as well as a shared bathroom area, if it isn’t provided in the rooms. Any facility with seven or more of these units will require an onsite manager, the proposed city ordinance states.

Doyle said he had a relative who could have benefited from renting one of these units, which in government jargon are described as “single room occupancy housing,” or residential hotels. Such units are less costly than a typical one-bedroom apartment and less stressful than renting out a full house and then finding roommates to split the cost, Doyle said.

Fellow Commissioner Brett Farrow said they’re great options for people of all incomes. He once came back from a lengthy overseas stay and rented one for a couple months in downtown San Diego while he waited for the house he’d leased out to become available, he said, adding that he loved the place.

Several members of the public who attended Thursday night’s meeting also expressed some enthusiasm for the dorm proposal, but wanted reassurance that the places would remain as long-term rental housing rather than becoming short-term vacation properties.

“I would really hate to see that get twisted into some kind of time-share facility,” Encinitas resident John Gjata said.

That was a sentiment shared by planning commissioners, who asked city principal planner Jennifer Gates what could be done to prevent this. Gates said the proposed ordinance already contains wording stating that the units must be rented for at least a month at a time.

“It’s not like a hotel; you would rent for a month or longer,” she said.

The dorm ordinance, as well as the farmworker housing and disabled persons’ accommodations ordinances, are part of a series of housing-related changes the city is pursuing as it updates a citywide housing document. The city’s new housing plan is in the final stages of the state approval process and is scheduled to go before the state Coastal Commission next week.

— Barbara Henry is a freelance writer for The San Diego Union-Tribune