How California Cities are Tackling the Housing Crisis

Taking a look at how cities are employing different strategies to incentivize ADU development

It’s clear that ADUs can help alleviate housing pains in density lacking neighborhoods, but how are different cities approaching this solution? Today we’re taking a look at five prominent California cities, and their approach to provide dense housing in traditionally single-family areas.

Los Angeles

California’s most prominent city, this broad city has taken huge strides to promote the growth of Accessory Dwelling Units. The city of Los Angeles provides the “LA ADU Accelerator Program”, which helps find ADU owners find qualified renters in order to receive additional benefits from the city of Los Angeles, including Tenant screening, Landlord Support, limited vacancy, and timely rent payments. You can read more about this program here.

ADUs have seen a steady increase in production in recent years thanks to legislation at the end of 2016 and early 2019, and with the city taking even bolder steps on it’s own, it’s hard not to be optimistic about development in the future!

San Diego

Following Los Angeles as the second most populous city in California, this city is also known for looking towards ADUs as a solution to skyrocketing rents, currently at a gross median rent of $1,695. Their aim is to provide more housing near the city's existing public transportation infrastructure. San Diego’s focus on providing density in transit focused neighborhoods is encouraging for the future of affordable and walkable lifestyles, something that ADUs aim to provide for its residents.

By opening the doors for ADU development, San Diego welcomes a lot of things that ADUs bring to the table - preserving historic neighborhoods and their character, granting homeowners the right to expand their homes in meaningful ways, and providing more affordable and reasonable living spaces for those looking to reduce their carbon footprint.

One huge development in recent years is the digital and expedited plan submittal, and adhering to the most ADU friendly standards allowable by state code. These standards include:

  • Allowing Multifamily properties up to 2 detached ADUs
  • Waived parking requirements, and no replacement parking required when the primary parking is removed in the process of an ADU
  • Attached or detached maximum size is 1,200 square feet
  • Bonus ADU Program for Affordable ADUs
  • Waiving Development Impact Fees, Facility Benefit Assessment Fees and General Plan Maintenance Fees


  • San Diego permitted over 532 ADUs in 2020, more than double what they did in 2018! Homeowners can be excited for the opportunities the city has to offer.

    San Jose

    Located near the bay area, this oft-overlooked populous city is also taking its own unique approach to housing solutions. It’s most notable decision was to allow an “ADU Amnesty” program, which allows homeowners with previously unpermitted units (ADUs built and unpermitted before 2020)

    Along with their Amnesty program, San Jose is also taking a similar step to what other municipalities have implemented: offering pre approved ADU plans that are publicly available and eligible to be used for Detached ADUs. Using simplified plans and focusing on streamlining application systems relieves a lot of pressure from Homeowners who may not be familiar with the bureaucracy of community development.

    While projects in this city are not typically supported by its residents, they do garner support by the city's elected officials, thanks to a study done by the Terner Center for Housing Innovation. The study also notes that one of the major constraints in San Jose is the threat of CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) lawsuits typically affect development, but ADUs are exempt from CEQA requirements. One of the largest cities in California may be also one of the biggest allies for ADUs. Check out some of these permit issuance numbers!

    Oakland

    The fourth city on our list also comes from the Bay Area. Rents are quickly rising as Oakland becomes a trendy city to move to, seeing a 10% increase in residents over the last 10 years. A city with a lot of history, Oakland is home to a lot of areas that were previously underdeveloped due to Historic Neighborhood designations, which limit the amount of development that can happen. In 2020, California passed laws that removed those restrictions for ADUs so long as certain standards are met.

    Oakland has made diligent efforts to educate homeowners on their rights to build ADUs, including classifying them as two types - Conversion, and new construction. These two categories have different regulations, making it easier to understand exactly what applies to your desired ADU. This graphic also helps illustrate exactly what regulations are in place, given your property and ADU type. There are plenty of resources available on the Oakland planning website, so if you’re in the area, be sure to check it out!

    This graph helps illustrate the emphasis Oakland is placing on certain types of units - moving away from new Single Family units, and towards denser housing options. By providing easily accessible information about by-right construction, Oakland is allowing homeowners the ability to capture equity in their home and contribute to more affordable housing.

    Pleasanton

    Listed in USA Today as the 4th best American City to live in, Pleasanton citizens are among the wealthiest in California, with the census bureau listing Pleasanton as having a median household income of $156,400. As you might imagine, such an influx of money can cause home prices to soar - the median house price is around $1,000,000, and the median rent is up to $2,396 a month! Because of this, Pleasanton is in need of solutions for those who need to live in the area, but can not afford these exorbitant rates.

    Also a city with lots of architectural history, the preservation of this character is key to finding a solution that can work for both it’s current and future residents. While Pleasanton has opted to keep the states most stringent regulations, the city council recently voted 4-1 to remove Impact fees for ADUs under 749 square feet, and reduce fees for all larger ADUs as well. Currently, cost is one of the largest barriers to entry for ADUs. Even if they have the capital, homeowners might not see the value in an ADU if the impact fees make it even longer to see a return on their initial investment.

    By removing this fees, Pleasanton is making steps to create a better quality of life for its residents who cannot afford million-dollar homes. While there is still plenty of room to do better, it’s great to see cities recognize the issue and begin to embrace solutions. Although these numbers are not as high as other cities, Pleasanton is making progress and taking a unique and designed approach to find a way that works for them.









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