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Junior accessory housing in Napa

Saanen Kerson, seen in her backyard with her dog Jambi, was one of the first Napa residents to create a second residential unit inside her home since the permitting process was reformed in 2017. A city program is aiming to extend loans and design guidance to as many as 12 local homeowners seeking to create similar second dwellings.

Napa plans to carry on with a pilot program to help city homeowners carve small apartments out of spare rooms, even though its partner in the experiment has closed shop.

An infusion of city funding and staff are meant to keep alive the program Napa approved last year to provide financing and design aid to residents creating junior accessory housing units, which can be built within a house’s existing envelope without adding to its floor area.

The City Council last month approved an extra $250,000 to be used for loans and design services, a step intended to increase the maximum number of clients from seven to 12. The move redirects money in Napa’s general fund that already had been budgeted for affordable housing.

The reset follows the shutdown in March of Lilypad Homes, a Novato nonprofit that joined forces with Napa to launch the junior housing program in June 2017, according to city Housing Manager Lark Ferrell.

Lilypad pitched the junior dwelling campaign as a way to increase the housing supply at a lower cost compared to new apartments or homes or even conventional “granny flats,” which often involve adding to an existing home’s floor area. Homeowners taking part in the program are required to rent the new units at below-market rents, and in exchange receive 20-year loans forgiven at the rate of 5 percent annually so long as rents are kept affordable.

A December workshop to publicize the junior housing program drew more than 100 people, and four Napans were approved for construction loans, Ferrell reported.

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But complications since launch have compelled Napa to take a more active role in the program. Lilypad announced its dissolution March 21 for lack of funds, leaving city employees to take over some of the defunct nonprofit’s duties. Furthermore, high demand for Bay Area contractors, combined with the loss of housing stock to the North Bay wildfires of October, made it harder for the city to find builders willing to take on small-scale and low-dollar work, Ferrell told the council.

With the city funding boost, the maximum loan for creating junior units will be raised from $40,000 to $50,000. Applications also will now be accepted for existing accessory structures that can be turned into housing for about the same price as creating an in-house unit.

A city workshop on creating accessory housing is set for 6 p.m. Monday at the Napa Senior Activity Center, 1500 Jefferson St. Staff will be present from both the city and Napa County, which has created its own, similar 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.