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Encinitas ‘granny flat’ program nets little interest

Only six households in the last year signed up to register their unpermitted “granny flats” despite a city incentive program, it was announced at the Dec. 16 Encinitas City Council meeting.

The Encinitas council in November 2014 established a yearlong program that loosened permitting requirements for granny flats, with the goal of counting the units toward the city’s affordable housing inventory.

Granny flats, also called accessory units, are small units on the same lot as a larger home. They also include garages that have been converted into living quarters.

To register an unpermitted granny flat, it has to be brought up to city code and deed restricted for low-income residents. Those who don’t legalize their accessory units run the risk of receiving fines from the city’s code enforcement department.

Due to the lack of sign-ups, the Encinitas council at the Dec. 16 meeting voted unanimously to extend the granny flat program six months. The council also directed the city manager to report back with options to further relax city rules so that more granny flats will be recorded.

Although 52 residents expressed interest in the program, few took advantage of it because of the work and cost involved in transforming a granny flat so that it meets city code, according to a city staff report.

Councilman Tony Kranz said it will be challenging to craft regulations that encourage more to register their accessory units while also ensuring the units are safe.

“The big challenge is where the city would draw the line on some of those units,” Kranz said.

Encinitas’ incentive program states accessory units must be reserved for low-income residents for 20 years, rather than the prior rule of in perpetuity. It also accepts granny flats constructed prior to 2004, instead of the earlier regulation that only allowed those accessory units built before city incorporation in 1986.

In hopes of enticing homeowners, the city last January sent out a mailer announcing the yearlong program.

The push to register granny flats came about in response to the housing element, which is headed for a public vote November 2016.

For the state-mandated housing element, the city aims to rezone select properties to accommodate up to 1,300 units. Registered granny flats are considered affordable housing, so having more on the books means the city has to plan for fewer units.

But Interim Planning Director Manjeet Ranu indicated that accessory units are unlikely to have much of an impact on the upcoming housing element.

Ranu said based on an agreement with the California Department of Housing and Community Development, the city is only expecting to receive credit for 25 accessory units for the housing element.

Councilwoman Catherine Blakespear said even if the units can’t be counted as part of the next housing element, they’re still an important source of affordable housing and should be preserved.

“They are our true affordable housing in this city,” Blakespear said. “I mean, we have to be honest about that.”

The council vote was 4-0. Councilman Mark Muir was absent from the meeting.


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