Palo Alto's big housing crisis could be eased by a small, new form of affordable housing: a converted bedroom with a kitchenette in a resident's home, according to a new staff report from the city's planning department.
Spurred by new state law that allows cities to set standards for so-called "junior accessory dwelling units," the self-contained housing would be no larger than 500 square feet and have its own entrance, separate from the main house's.
The allowance of junior units in the city would represent "a significant policy shift," the report states, effectively permitting new rental housing on all of the city's single-family properties, which number in the thousands.
On Wednesday, the city's Planning and Transportation Commission will review staff proposals both for the new junior units and for tweaking existing regulations of accessory dwelling units (also known as "granny units," "in-law units," and "secondary-dwelling units").
In part, these changes are necessary to conform city regulations to state Senate Bill 1069, Assembly Bill 2299 and Assembly Bill 2406, which Governor Brown signed into law in September and which will take effect on Jan. 1, 2017.
City staff, however, have also proposed additions to those changes to motivate homeowners to construct affordable housing while also addressing concerns about the new rentals' effects on neighborhoods' quality of life.
Palo Alto has been grappling with skyrocketing housing prices and its aging population for several years.
"Housing costs in Palo Alto are out of reach for many families," the draft ordinance states, "and a majority of owners and renters pay 30 percent or more of their gross income for housing, and many pay 50 percent or more."
To some people, including city officials, accessory housing -- which is built on existing properties, and in the case of junior units, using the existing space of the main house -- appears to be a low-cost and feasible solution.
Such new rentals could provide homeowners who are aged or have disabilities with a way to earn income and give low-income people a place to live that they can afford.
Up until now, however, few accessory units have been built under current city regulations. City officials and residents alike have cited numerous hurdles for homeowners who wish to build such units.
"Recent studies show that local standards like Palo Alto's, perhaps unintentionally, prevent homeowners from building ADUs with standards like lot coverage, large set-backs, off-street parking, or costly construction requirements," the ordinance states.
Among the host of proposed changes that the commission will consider:
• The parking requirement for an accessory unit would be reduced from two spaces (one covered) to one space per unit or one space per bedroom, whichever is greater. Parking exceptions would be made if the unit is within a half-mile of public transit or a block from a car-share vehicle; the neighborhood requires on-street parking permits; or the housing is in an architecturally and historically significant district.
• Junior units would require no parking, and they could be built on any single-family property regardless of its size.
• Garages could be converted without abiding by current setback requirements.
• The homeowner must live in either the main house or the accessory or junior unit.
• Only one accessory unit or one junior unit would be permitted per lot.
• The accessory unit could not be sold separately from the main house.
• No accessory or junior units could be rented for periods of less than 30 days.
The planning commission Wednesday night will also consider modifications to the city's affordable-housing impact fees charged to developers.
The meeting will begin at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 30, in the Council Chambers at City Hall, 250 Hamilton Ave.