Tiny homes for the homeless and your backyard

Councilman backs plan to house "the next one million in San Diego."

This tiny home was once a shipping container
  • This tiny home was once a shipping container

Alternately referred to under terms such as "companion units," "accessory dwellings,” or, more colloquially, "granny flats" (Coronado prefers the unique term "carriage houses"), the practice of adding a second residence to a single-family lot has sparked debate in recent months. Proponents say the extra units are needed to address acute housing shortages and attendant housing-affordability issues, while detractors worry about noise, traffic, and parking problems, especially in neighborhoods already denser than planned, like the College Area.

This unfinished demo unit (as of the October 26 media preview) illustrates a more bare-bones approach

This unfinished demo unit (as of the October 26 media preview) illustrates a more bare-bones approach

Despite the debate, both state and local agencies have taken steps to make the extra units easier to build. In January, a statewide law took effect banning water and sewer agencies from charging hookup fees for a second unit being added to a site where connections for an existing home are already in place. This summer, San Diego's city council passed their own regulations that added onto the state efforts, waiving additional parking requirements if units are built near public transit, among other perks.

This Saturday, a host of different options for pre-manufactured tiny homes will be on display at Market Creek Plaza in Lincoln Park (310 Euclid Avenue), with models ranging from the bare-bones to miniature opulence illustrating what homeowners might be able to install to turn their backyards into revenue streams.

"These are the kind of units that come on the back of a truck and get dropped with a crane into your backyard," said Philip Bona, president of the American Institute of Architects' San Diego chapter at a media preview on Thursday (October 25th). "There are over 190,000 lots in San Diego County that have the size to carry a second unit.

"This is all about how we're going to house the next one million in San Diego. It's about housing affordability. We want the people of San Diego to know that there are choices, alternatives even at the very low-income level. This is an opportunity for permanent supportive housing, and we need to be building this instead of tents."

While the units themselves range in cost from $15,000 to $70,000, the permits and fees associated with their installation can run as high as $80,000, dwarfing the homes' construction cost.

City councilmember Scott Sherman, who chairs the body's smart growth and land-use committee (David Alvarez and Georgette Gómez are also members), also stopped by to weigh in.

This tiny house includes a full bedroom, bath, living room, and loft that could serve as a second bedroom or crawling-space-only office

This tiny house includes a full bedroom, bath, living room, and loft that could serve as a second bedroom or crawling-space-only office

"We're facing two different crises in San Diego — a homelessness crisis and a housing crisis. Those two run together," Sherman said. "We see so many people on the streets because there's no place they can afford to put a roof over their head. These tiny-house solutions can offer a solution to that dead end."

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness's Cathryn Nacario, 80 percent of the more than 7000 inquiries her group receives annually regard housing issues associated with the population battling mental health issues. Thirty-nine percent of San Diego's homeless self-report mental illness, and this population is among the most likely to experience chronic housing challenges.

"We're looking at a program up in Portland, Oregon, where, through different social services, they bring in these homes, put them on a piece of property," Sherman continued. "You agree to have someone in the mental health system live in that property for a period of time. Once that is done, that granny flat is now yours — you can rent it out at market rates. Not only are you dealing with the mental health side of things, you're also providing that bridge-gap housing that doesn't exist right now.

"Say you're a young family who's just bought into a market where the average price for a single-family home is over a half-million dollars — you need help to offset some of that cost. You can put one of these little tiny homes on your property to help offset some of that mortgage while providing housing to people who need help at that first rung of the ladder before they start moving up."

Tiny Homes Central and the American Institute of Architects will be hosting an open house, where visitors can tour trailer-based homes, those designed for permanent installation, and even one unit constructed from a converted shipping container (the builder says models with up to three bedrooms are possible) from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, October 28.

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Mike Murphy - "While the units themselves range in cost from $15,000 to $70,000, the permits and fees associated with their installation can run as high as $80,000, dwarfing the homes' construction cost."

There are trailers which can be towed without special permits or licenses and there are park models which are oversize units that require permits and special license and equipment. Park models are built to RV standards and were designed to be place in RV parks. They are not mobile homes nor are they "granny flats" which are built to housing standards.

None of the units discussed here resemble anything like an RV manufacturer's park models - some might be closer to traditional "manufactured homes" that you'd find in a mobile home park without any weekly rental spots, but they're also not necessarily code-compliant. Nearly every two-level unit, for example, had stairs narrower and with a rise exceeding and run not meeting local code.

That is correct Dave all the units mentioned are manufactured to RV/trailer standards not Manufactured Home standards or regular on-site built homes. You are thinking of traditional RV motor homes or travel trailers. I suggest you go to the Cavco website. Cavco is a leading manufacturer of mobile homes and Park Models. Also you might go to www.skyvalleyresorts.com to see how Park Models fit into the RV classification.

Thanks for the reference, Alex - I didn't find anything specific to inform me on the Cavco site, but it does appear their "park models" differ from the ones I'm familiar with that are larger tow-behind RVs with extensive slide-outs that are designed to retain their axles and some semblance of portability. Even not meeting local building codes, these units appear designed for one-time-only transport, from the building site to the installation site.

This idea sounds so good. But the devil is in the details, and when neighbors get a look at what they do to the neighborhood, there is often strong opposition. Areas of San Diego that might be the first to go for those "flats" have small lots as it is, and after meeting setback rules and lot coverage rules, there often isn't enough space for one. Oh, the city could change the rules about those added units, but the city always struggles to make any changes that are acceptable to all involved. (Just look at the battle about short-term rentals.)

Adding some of these units would help with the shortage of affordable housing, but don't expect to see them pop up by the thousands. It won't happen, folks.

I lived in a tiny house one summer. But other people call them sailboats. Living in small spaces is not for everyone.

If we do this w will also have t add extra parking for all the shopping carts.

They don't train police to deal with mental illness but they should be in everybody's backyard to take care of? Who's the coo-coo bird?

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