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Nevada County looks to emphasize smaller units

John Orona
Staff Writer

By the numbers

As of June 12

Number of COVID-19 cases: 52

Number tested: 3,815

Number in western county: 12

Number in eastern county: 40

Number of active cases: 3

Number of recoveries: 48

Number of deaths: 1

Learn more at http://www.theunion.com/coronavirus

The lack of affordable housing is an issue known to nearly every Nevada County resident, but with a potential wave of evictions looming and the COVID-19-created recession continuing, it may get worse from here.

The Nevada County Board of Supervisors has made the issue of affordable housing and homelessness priorities over the last several years, working with local partners to create housing opportunities and amending zoning codes to encourage affordable development.

While there haven’t been specific efforts to influence development and create cheaper housing since the pandemic broke out, that work has been ongoing for years and will continue to develop, county planning director Brian Foss said.

One strategy has been to encourage building more low-cost options, like accessory dwelling units, to not only increase the stock for those who need affordable housing but hopefully also allow some tenants to downgrade, further opening up units.

For more than a decade the county has been tinkering with the regulations on ADUs, hoping to increase development by lessening the red tape to build them while also trying to curtail the use of Airbnb sites that subtract from the housing stock.

Since 2009 the county has removed administrative development permit requirements for the structures in some zones and done away with dead end road requirements.

According to the county’s housing element report, thanks to these changes and a growing economy, between 2014 and 2018 the county averaged about 15 building permits for ADUs each year compared to just eight per year between 2009 and 2013.

In March 2019 the county relaxed ADU regulations by removing requirements for the owner to live on the property and banning short-term rentals fewer than 30 days, except in some agritourism sites. The regulations also allowed for detached units on parcels less than an acre and provided fee deferrals for road and sewer mitigation.

On Tuesday, Placer County also amended its ADU regulations to allow building in multifamily dwelling zones, restricting short-term rentals and allowing their construction on agriculture zoned parcels for employee housing.

But while ADU building and mobile home permits have increased steadily since 2014, they may not be as affordable as anticipated.

ADUs are typically cheaper than other housing types, restricted to no more than 1,200 square feet by county ordinance. But county data suggests while they are affordable to low-income renters making between 50%-80% of the area’s median income, they are still out of reach for very low and extremely low income renters.

The county identified 54 sites that could be used to build more ADUs through 2027. Very low and extremely low income renters make up about 20% of county households.

According to the housing element, the county over the next decade will look to develop more single room occupancy units to serve these residents, including applying for grants and loans for such projects. The element lists this effort as a potential policy directive.


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Coronavirus Guidance for Businesses/Employers

Nevada County Relief Fund for Covid-19

To contact Staff Writer John Orona, email jorona@theunion.com or call 530-477-4229.

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