ENCINITAS — The first state bill sponsored by Encinitas in more than 20 years is starting to fulfill its original intent: to get unpermitted dwelling units out of the shadows and officially counted in the housing stock.
Encinitas is poised to add two affordable units to its inventory as a result of Senate Bill 1226, which allows accessory dwelling units to be permitted based on the codes in effect at the time the units were built.
A housing inspector, for instance, can certify that a granny flat or in-law unit from 1965 is safe and habitable based on the building codes from 1965. Then the city can issue a retroactive building permit that renders the unit a legal rental.
Brisjon Latif and her husband are in the process of receiving such a retroactive permit for the two affordable studios on their property in Cardiff that were built in 1983 before the city incorporated. Those backyard cottages, along with the original 1946 structure where the couple lives, were included in the 2006 purchase.
Renters occupied the studios at the time of purchase and continued their tenancy with Latif. Since then, various other tenants have come and gone over the years, often moving out when they got married or, as in a couple of cases, once they could afford to purchase homes of their own.
Leasing the units to low-income earners is a personal priority for Latif. She could rent her units at market rates and make more money, but she said that she purposely reserves the studios for people who, for example, “work in our local restaurants or might be going to school while holding down a job.”
The rent is currently $1,185 per month per studio, and the units are reserved for tenants who make less than $50,000 per year. The current occupants work at a youth center and at a local bar and restaurant.
Latif’s personal experiences have motivated her to help people who might otherwise be squeezed out of the market. She will never forget the time more than 30 years ago when no one would rent to her even though she had a good job.
After an attempt to purchase property fell through due to being swindled and then finding herself unable to get a rental, Latif explained that she ended up living out of her car. “When the sun goes down and you don’t know where you’re going, it’s an awful situation.”
She eventually got her money back and found a place to rent in La Costa. Latif attributes landlords’ rejections then to her being a woman of color but believes that times have changed for the better.
Decades later and happily settled in her Cardiff home with her husband, Latif tried multiple ways to make their units legal with the city of Encinitas, but she could not find a cost-effective or streamlined avenue forward until SB 1226 became law on Jan. 1.
Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear advocated for SB 1226 in Sacramento and worked for years with a lobbyist and lawmakers — including the bill’s author, Sen. Pat Bates, to get the legislation passed.
Blakespear said, “I’m really excited to hear that Cardiff residents have already utilized the new flexibility that the bill provides.”
She continued, “To see it working in our city in such a short time is gratifying and shows we are on the right track. I hope to see other examples of residents who are helped by this bill.”
Deputy Mayor Jody Hubbard said, “I see accessory dwelling units as playing a critical role in the future of Encinitas housing and in the building of community.”
Hubbard shared that as a child living in San Fernando Valley, her family had an accessory dwelling unit on their property where an elderly woman lived. “She babysat us, and we ended up having a really neat relationship with her.”
To incentivize homeowners stepping forward to legally register their accessory dwelling units, Encinitas has waived some fees and loosened setbacks and other requirements.
The city is trying to close in on its housing targets through any means possible. After years of noncompliance with California housing law, Encinitas is under a court order to implement a housing plan in accordance with state law by April 11.
Encinitas remains 1,141 units short of its lower-income housing quota, which it can fulfill through SB 1226, densely zoned new developments and other programs.
One program, the recently launched Permit-Ready Accessory Dwelling Units Program, provides residents with free architectural plans that can be used to build stand-alone accessory dwelling units on their properties.
It’s a companion piece to SB 1226, combining new with old — but both with the aim to create and count housing, even if it’s only one unit at a time.