San Diego approves region’s first tiny houses law to help solve housing crisis
New option is cheaper than granny flats, can be added more quickly
San Diego became the first city in the region Tuesday to allow homeowners to install movable “tiny houses” in their back yards.
City Council members said before unanimously approving a tiny houses ordinance that tiny houses will help solve the local housing crisis by creating another affordable option for low-income residents that doesn’t require a taxpayer subsidy.
Similar to granny flats, movable tiny houses can also help homeowners cover their mortgage payments by creating a new revenue stream for them.
“It’s a win-win-win all the way across the board,” Councilman Scott Sherman said. “It’s a small bite of a large elephant when it comes to solving some of our housing challenges in the city.”
San Diego is following Denver, Sacramento, Los Angeles, Fresno and San Jose in approving tiny houses, which are considered ideal for college students, senior citizens and medical caregivers.
“Innovation is key to addressing our housing crisis,” Councilwoman Barbara Bry said, noting that the new law would also boost the local economy because San Diego is home to some tiny home manufacturers.
Tiny houses are similar to granny flats, but smaller, cheaper and easier to add to a property.
Tiny houses are typically 150 to 400 square feet, while granny flats are typically larger than 400 square feet — sometimes much larger.
Granny flats often cost between $100,000 and $150,000, while tiny houses usually cost between $40,000 and $85,000.
Adding a tiny house is also quicker and easier, primarily because they are built in factories and placed on a chassis, while granny flats are built on-site and attached to a concrete foundation.
It usually takes six to 18 months to construct a granny flat, while a tiny house can be in place 30 to 45 days after placing an order, city officials said.
City officials estimate the average rent for a tiny house will be $900. That would allow a homeowner to recover their initial investment in about eight years.
Under the new city law, a homeowner can’t have both a granny flat and a tiny house — only one or the other. A tiny house can’t be rented out for fewer than 30 days at a time, so they won’t be used as short-term vacation rentals.
While movable tiny houses have wheels, they aren’t like a conventional trailer or recreational vehicle. Instead, they are built like a traditional home, with interior space geared for daily living, city officials said.
Because of wildfire concerns, tiny houses aren’t allowed on properties located in the city’s urban/wildland interface — neighborhoods that abut canyons or wilderness.
Smaller than granny flats, tiny houses are also cheaper, faster to add
Despite the tiny houses being potential competition, the local development community supports the effort.
“A variety of housing options are essential to addressing the chronic housing shortage, and tiny homes adds to a long-term strategy of housing affordability in the city of San Diego,” said Angeli Calinog, a policy advisor for the local chapter of the Building Industry Association.
Several city residents also spoke in support of the new law.
“If tiny houses on wheels become legalized, I would be able to afford housing while my husband and I attend school,” said Emely Aguirre. “This would allow me to take more time off work to devote to my studies and hopefully progress myself further in life and contribute to my community. This type of housing would be an amazing solution until I accomplish my degree and go on to buy my own home.”
Robert Myjak said the benefits of the new law include “lower cost homes, potential villages for lower income people to live, lower cost to house the impoverished, job creation and less destruction of land.”
Sam Lyons said tiny houses could become a rung on the housing ladder just above homelessness.
“There is a huge housing crisis in this city and tiny homes could keep many people off the streets,” he said.
Nationally, the tiny house movement began as an attempt to downsize and live more simply, often with a smaller environmental impact. Its growth was supported by TV shows like “Tiny House Nation.”
Since then, the focus has shifted to using tiny houses as a solution for homelessness and the lack of affordable housing.
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