Fee waivers for rentals extended

12/27/2018

Elisabeth Ptak finished construction on her junior accessory dwelling unit earlier this month, inspired to create the space by the difficultly she underwent as a renter many years ago. 

“I recognize that there are a lot of people who are looking for rentals who don’t make a lot of money and can’t find them,” said Ms. Ptak, whose Inverness home overlooks Tomales Bay. “So when this particular kind of opportunity came up… I got interested, and it seemed like it would be a good fit for me, not only as housing but as income.” 

For the last year, Ms. Ptak and other property owners in unincorporated Marin have been able to receive fee waivers from the county for the construction of junior accessory dwelling units, known as JADUs. Last Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors extended the sunset date of the program, which was created in December 2017 after the North Bay fires. Now, the Community Development Agency will issue waivers for JADUs through 2019.

Supervisors also added larger accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, to the program. ADUs, which have their own kitchen and can be as large as 1,200 square feet, can either be part of a main residence or in a separate building. JADUs have a maximum size of 500 square feet and have a wet bar instead of a kitchen; they are typically rooms within houses. 

The county hopes the creation of ADUs and JADUs will increase the number of affordable rental opportunities, particularly in more rural areas.  

“The purpose of reducing or waiving fees for these units is to incentivize property owners to create them within their single-family dwellings as a means of expanding our supply of hopefully affordable rental housing,” Brian Crawford, director of the Community Development Agency, told supervisors. 

While real estate is expensive all over the county, unincorporated Marin faces a particular set of challenges. A lack of rental housing compounded by strict environmental regulations and community pushback have prevented substantial development, and many homes have been converted into short-term rentals such as Airbnbs, further constricting the supply of workforce and affordable housing. 

Currently, over 67,000 people live in the unincorporated parts of Marin, and the county expects that population to grow by nearly 10,000 residents by 2040. More than 30 percent of the 26,000 households in unincorporated Marin are renters, and 2,000 of them are classified as extremely-low income. 

In most of West Marin, the creation of ADUs and JADUs through the county’s fee waiver program has been handled by the Community Land Trust Association of West Marin. CLAM’s Real Community Rentals program helps connect property owners with architects and builders as well as prospective tenants, and screens tenants on landlords’ behalf. 

To qualify for a fee waiver, property owners were previously mandated to refrain from using their units as short-term rentals for a year—a length of time that supervisors last week extended to two years. 

While property owners shoulder the cost of building the units, the waivers are intended to offset permitting costs. Fee waivers for ADUs are capped at $3,500, and the fee for JADUs will remain capped at $1,500; costs beyond that will come out of the owner’s own pocket.  

County planner Deborah La Rue said that four of the five JADUs created in 2018 were completely covered by the waiver; the median amount waived was $547. 

According to Mr. Crawford, all of the new fee waivers will cost the county about $50,000 annually.

The board has also allowed the director of the Department of Public Works to waive roadway impact fees associated with the creation of eligible JADUs. Such fees are meant to offset wear and tear to roads incurred during the construction process. Ms. La Rue said that roadway impact fees typically run from $250 to $350. 

At Tuesday’s meeting, Stacey Laumann, a project manager at CLAM, said she was pleased that supervisors extended the prohibition on short-term rentals to two years, but suggested it be extended even further. 

Since the Real Community Rentals program began in 2016, CLAM has created over 18 housing units. “I can attest to the fact that this program is working, and fee reductions significantly lower the barrier to making this happen,” she said.

She went on, “I worked on a second-unit amnesty program [in unincorporated Marin] in 2007 and 2008, and at that time the cost of permitting would dissuade people from creating a unit. Anything to reduce the barrier to entry is very important because infill—creating units that are within the community already, as opposed to building a new complex or building on undeveloped land—particularly in West Marin, is going to be the most effective strategy for housing the community.”