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San Diego hopes incentives will lead to more low-income 'granny flats'

More low-income granny flats could be on their way to San Diego after the City Council passed an amendment to incentivize their construction. KPBS Speak City Heights reporter Jacob Aere says there is some skepticism.

Accessory dwelling units go by a lot of different names: ADUs, casitas, granny flats or just backyard units. No matter the name, the San Diego City Council has approved a new amendment to get more of them built for low-income households, by providing incentives.

Daniel Shkolnik is a real estate broker and developer for Atlas West Group. He’s been at the forefront of building ADUs in San Diego.

“I think we can all recognize that San Diego has a housing shortage,” he said. “The average timeline to build a multifamily structure takes three to four years by the time you scout the site, do all the permitting and development, architecture, construction … That's a really long timeline.”


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Stairs lead to an Accessory Dwelling Unit, April 12, 2022.
Nicholas McVicker
Stairs lead to an Accessory Dwelling Unit, April 12, 2022.

Shkolnik said ADUs can be built in half the time.

Plus, San Diego landowners who build a reduced-rent unit can also build a bonus granny flat that can be rented at market rates.

The catch is that the rent restricted unit has to be rented at a reduced rate to moderate-income residents for 15 years, or after the latest amendment, rented for 10 years to low-income tenants.

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City Council President Sean Elo-Rivera led the charge on the amendment. He sees ADUs as a way to address the region's housing affordability issue.

“While we may not see families of four or five moving into these ADUs, what we will be doing is relieving some of the competitive pressure that those families were feeling by not having these other homes, these new homes, on the rental market,” Elo-Rivera said.

The most recent amendment builds on Mayor Todd Gloria’s “Homes for All of Us” package which passed in February.

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The inside of a kitchen in an ADU is pictured, April 12, 2022.
Nic McVicker
The inside of a kitchen in an ADU is pictured, April 12, 2022.

That legislation somewhat restricted rules for San Diego's ADUs, but LISC San Diego Executive Director Ricardo Flores said the real issue for San Diego's housing crisis comes down to land size and value.

“I think ADUs are definitely at the beginning. It's a good start. It's not an end-all, be-all,” he said. “Any policies that make it more complicated are not good. We need to provide policies that make it easier. The role of government at this point in time should be ‘are you following the law and are you structurally sound?’”

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There are income requirements to live in the rent-controlled units.

Tenants in low-income ADUs must currently earn less than $39,930, which is 60% of the area’s median annual income for single-person households.

Residents in moderate-income ADUs must make between 60% and 110% of the city’s median income of $66,550.