07/01 San Mateo, CA to fund small home prototypes

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San Mateo County is working to address the affordable housing crisis. One possible solution is the development of prototype tiny house designs that could be streamlined for acceptance onto small lots.

The Planning and Building Department will be issuing an RFP (request for proposals) for $500K to fund innovative housing concepts. Proposals need not be limited to ideas in the white paper. More detailed info will be available when the formal RFP is drafted.

Below is an excerpt from page 17 of the white paper:

Small Home Prototype

As discussed above, second dwelling units provide an important source of affordable housing
because they are typically smaller than a primary residence, and often house relatives,
students, young adults, and other segments of the population that have trouble affording the
rent of a primary residence. To encourage the provision of secondary dwelling units on
appropriate sites, some jurisdictions, such as the County of San Luis Obispo, offer property
owners free sets of plans that have been drafted in accordance with current building code
requirements. By reducing the cost of developing secondary units, this program provides a
significant financial incentive for the provision of such units.

In San Mateo County, there is an opportunity to establish a similar program that can also be
applied to the construction of primary residences. There are numerous antiquated subdivisions
throughout the unincorporated area, where typical lot sizes are below that which is required by
zoning, and where the construction of a residence to the maximum size allowed by the zoning
can have an adverse impact on community character, visual resources, and infrastructure
constraints.

Prototype plans for smaller homes on such lots provide an opportunity to address these issues by providing a financial incentive for property owners to construct homes that are proportional to small lot sizes, provide more room for onsite parking and landscaping, and place lower demands on public services.

The availability of such plans will also reduce the costs and risks typically associated with the development of vacant properties. For example, the prototype plans could be reviewed and approved by applicable Design Review Committees, thereby minimizing the need for project-by-project reviews and plan revisions.

In addition to providing a less costly and more streamlined process for building affordable units, such a program provides an opportunity to encourage green building and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Prototype plans will employ designs and materials that maximize energy efficiency, environmental sustainability, and public health.

The steps required to implement such a program include:

  • identifying a source of funds to pay for the development of prototype plans
  • conducting a competitive process to select an architectural, design, and/or engineering firm capable of creating these plans
  • working with the County’s Design Review Committees and other stakeholders to obtain feedback on the designs and the ways in which the program will be carried out
  • establishing the specific procedures regarding the use of the plans and what if any obligations the property owners who desire to use the plans must fulfill.

Read the complete white paper here: https://housing.smcgov.org/sites/housing.smcgov.org/files/Affordable%20Housing%20White%20Paper%202015%2003%2002.pdf

And more on the Affordable Housing Initiative here: https://housing.smcgov.org/affordable-housing-white-paper

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Elaine Walker