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Accessory housing units in Napa

This is the living room, left, and bedroom of Sue Decker’s home in the Alta Heights neighborhood. Around 2004, she and her husband converted what was then a storage area of their home into their primary residence.

Last year was a comparatively slow year for housing permits in Napa, but a set of project approvals in 2017 – including the green light for 100 affordably priced units – should bring Napa closer to its housing expansion goals, city officials reported.

Permits were issued for only 38 residences last year, down from 143 in 2016 and 99 in 2015, planning and housing officials told the city Planning Commission on Thursday. Housing units with pulled permits are in various stages of planning or construction.

Despite the dip, staff members reported Napa remains close to its goal of approving 835 housing units over an eight-year period ending in 2023, with 280 permitted over the past three years.

Last updated in 2015, Napa’s housing plan is required by the state as part of its general plan guiding the pace and layout of the city’s physical growth. It sets out Napa’s housing needs and gives plans for meeting the demand, including how many more units should be added.

None of the housing permits added in 2017 are reserved for those with moderate or lower-than-median incomes. Only eight such residences in the past three years have been permitted thus far of the 432 included in Napa’s eight-year plan, city records show – 141 for mid-income homes, 106 for low-income and 185 for very low-income residences.

However, Napa’s approval of various developments in the past year should pick up the pace on housing construction and especially affordable housing, senior planner Michael Walker reported.

In 2017, the city signed off on 143 housing units, including 100 to be rented at affordable rates. Accounting for the lower-priced homes were Stoddard West near Soscol Avenue’s auto showroom corridor, and the Manzanita Family Apartments farther north on Soscol north of La Homa Drive.

Builders last year also filed applications for 85 more units, 78 of which would be part of multifamily projects, Walker told commissioners.

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A growing part of Napa’s housing picture will be the conversion of spare bedrooms and outbuildings into smaller and affordable homes, according to city Housing Manager Lark Ferrell. The 38 housing permits issued in 2017 included 17 for so-called accessory dwelling units – up from just three in each of the previous two years – and the city approved 34 others amid streamlined local and state rules meant to remove fees and roadblocks from stymieing homeowners interested in creating such units for rental income.

The latest development of such streamlining is Napa’s junior accessory unit program, which began in late 2017 and encourages the conversion of bedrooms into separate living quarters without adding to a house’s total footprint. Such miniature units are typically smaller than 500 square feet and include an existing bedroom, with the addition of a separate entrance and kitchenette to form a de facto studio apartment.

Homeowners entering the program can receive interest-free loans up to $40,000 from the city, which are forgiven at a 5 percent annual rate as long as the resulting apartment remains rented out and the owner lives on the premises. Tenants must have a low enough income to qualify – starting with a $52,150 maximum for a single person – and the homeowner must keep rents below fixed levels, such as $978 for a studio.

Six homeowners have applied to take part, of a maximum of 10 who can take part in the city program, according to Ferrell.

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City of Napa/Town of Yountville Reporter

Howard Yune covers the city of Napa and the town of Yountville. He has been a reporter and photographer for the Register since 2011, and previously wrote for the Marysville Appeal-Democrat, Anaheim Bulletin and Coos Bay (Oregon) World.