San Jose aims to become California's friendliest ADU city

Wednesday, August 28, 2019
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San Jose city leaders unveiled a series of measures aimed at making it easier for homeowners to build 'granny units' in their backyards.

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- San Jose city leaders unveiled a series of measures Tuesday afternoon aimed at making it easier for homeowners to build 'granny units' in their backyards.

The homes, which are officially termed as accessory dwelling units (ADU), could add more housing in a region that desperately needs it.

"We need to look every potential tool in the toolbox that can help us get more housing built," said San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo. "Backyard homes can be one of those solutions."

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Mayor Liccardo hopes to transform San Jose into the state's friendliest ADU city. This includes an express review service on Tuesdays, where homeowners can make appointments to meet directly with city staff for a single, comprehensive review of their ADU application, for qualifying 1-story units up to 900 square feet.

If no revisions are needed, homeowners could potentially walk out with a building permit in less than 90 minutes.

For qualifying homes, that could shave off nearly 20 business days, which is typically how long it takes to get approval. The city is also looking at creating a forgivable loan program.

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"They can actually get these loans to actually build the ADUs in exchange for keeping the rents at an affordable rate," said Rosalynn Hughey, the director of San Jose's planning, building and code enforcement department.

More than 120,000 single-family homes in San Jose have room for a small ADU. They likely won't work for large families but could be attractive to seniors and young people.

"These administrative improvements will help make it easier for our seniors to age-in-place, our millennials in search of less burdensome rent, and our middle-class families needing an extra income," said City Councilmember Pam Foley, who represents the Willow Glen and Cambrian neighborhoods. "We need to make the ADU permitting process absolutely seamless."

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To help make things easier, homeowners can also use an ADU design that's been pre-approved by the city. For builders like Steve Vallejos, owner of prefabADU, any opportunity for customers to save time and money is key.

"When you're looking for models to create efficiency within the local process... this is one of the best things a city can do," said Vallejos.

The number of ADU permit applications has skyrocketed since 2016 to more than 40 applications each month. The city says a recent poll shows that more than 30% of San Jose homeowners are interested in building a backyard home or converting a garage or a part of their home for rental use.

"We have teachers, nurses, college students, seniors, first responders, and so many others desperate to find an affordable place to rent. And at the same time, we have thousands of homeowners interested in creating affordable rental options," said Liccardo. "The city can and must act as a catalyst to speed up the construction of these new units."

For more information on the city's ADU program, click here.

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