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Prefab housing, such as these units in Los Angeles, could help reduce California's housing shortage.
Prefab housing, such as these units in Los Angeles, could help reduce California's housing shortage. (Art Gray / mnmMOD)

Granny flats — small housing units added to the property of single-family homes — are a smart way to add housing stock in a housing-starved state. The city of San Diego has helped encourage granny flats by collaborating with the San Diego Housing Federation, the Local Initiatives Support Corporation and the Pacific Southwest Association of Realtors on a 42-page handbook outlining how homeowners can add the units, known in bureaucratese as "accessory dwelling units." Earlier this year, the City Council and Mayor Kevin Faulconer also sharply lowered the fees needed to add granny flats. That followed up on previous moves to loosen zoning rules to clear the way for the units.

Now it's time for California's second-largest city to borrow from California's third largest. San Jose this month cleared the way for the Bay Area startup Abodu to begin installing prefabricated granny flats with preapproved plans that could allow homeowners to add the units in a process that — start to finish — could last as little as two weeks. For about $200,000, Abodu is selling 500-square-foot, one-bedroom, one-bathroom units that can be customized and upgraded.

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Other prefab housing options are much cheaper, so San Jose's program could be improved on. But radically simplifying the granny flats addition process in a way that could lead to rapid installation of housing is shrewd. "We won't solve our housing crisis $650,000 at a time," San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said. "We have to bend the cost curve in order to build more housing." Take note, San Diego.

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