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    Bringing Accessory Dwelling Units to Oakland

    By Rebecca Kaplan, Oakland City Councilmember At-Large–

    Earlier this year I authored a resolution to declare a local state of emergency on homelessness in Oakland that was passed unanimously. However, for most residents of the Bay Area, you don’t need a resolution to know our region is facing a severe housing and homelessness crisis. All of us can count many friends and family who have left the region in the last decade, or who have experienced homelessness. That is why I have been working for many years to protect renters, to support the creation of more housing, and to shelter our unhoused community.

    Most recently, I am working with staff to create a streamlined process for residents to build accessory dwelling units (ADUs) on their property. This is one way we can quickly increase our housing stock and house our community members.

    The first step is a code change to reduce ceiling heights for residential units for one and two-family houses and townhouses from Oakland’s 7 feet 6 inches to the California state standard of 7 feet. We’ve heard from small homeowners, many of whom are cash poor and want to legalize basement units. But lifting a house can be very cost prohibitive. Reducing ceiling heights is a simple step that may add more units of housing and provide shelter to our residents in need of more affordable housing options.

    Most homeowners are not “big developers” and need more of a personal touch to make it through the maze that is building an ADU. The next steps will be to:

    • pilot evening hours for residents;
    • streamline the permitting process;
    • certify prefab units that would be pre-approved and that would, in turn, make the permitting process easier;
    • dig into the ordinances to see if there are other places that we can make the easy fixes that will provide housing opportunities.

    Simply by adding evening hours, we will allow homeowners that cannot make it to the permit desk during normal business hours to have their questions answered and to help them start their projects sooner.

    Another example is garage conversions where we should be looking to streamline the permitting process. We have many detached garages that can be more easily converted that would provide both supplemental income to homeowners and shelter to community members.

    Finally, we have businesses right here in Oakland that build shipping container homes that offer all of the basic necessities. Each container is prepped for plumbing, electricity, a shower, a full-size bed with storage built-in, and a desk. If we could pre-approve these home designs, we could bypass a lot of the inspection and permitting and help homeowners to quickly provide additional housing in our communities.

    I am looking forward to developing this policy and to working on many other ideas that will help Oakland to move toward sheltering all of our residents.

    Councilmember At-Large Rebecca Kaplan was elected in 2008 to serve as Oakland’s citywide Councilmember; she was re-elected in 2016. She also serves on the Alameda County Transportation Commission (ACTC). Follow Councilmember Kaplan on Twitter @Kaplan4Oakland ( ) and Facebook
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