Michelle Weiner: Garden Cottages, increasing Culver City affordable housing, one little space at a time


I’m excited about the prospect of making and keeping housing affordable in Culver City. Why am I interested in this issue?  I live in a single family home in a lovely CC neighborhood – where once we had the youngest children on the block, now my husband and I are among the elders in the neighborhood. The stock of nearby housing has increased since we purchased our home in 1986; the adjacent Studio Drive-in property called Heritage Park, holds 57 homes, a school and pocket park. Multi-use buildings along Washington Boulevard have also increased the number of housing units.

So why should I be concerned about affordable housing?  My now adult children cannot afford to live here, nor can any of their friends. Our local teachers, police officers, firefighters, and many City staff members often find it difficult to find affordable housing in Culver City.  A number of young families I know who rent apartments find it beyond their reach to buy a home here and have no security when it comes to the threat of displacement. And, we have only one transitional housing program to serve our entire community for families who are homeless.

Because providing enough affordable housing is a complicated problem impacting cities and rural areas across the country, Culver City requires an array of strategies.  One solution that could be applied in neighborhoods like mine:  garden cottages, also known as secondary units. State lawmakers found the solution worthy of legislation and voted to ease restrictions on building additional housing in single family backyards. (See http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-fi-small-houses-solution-20160725-snap-story.html.) The new State law requires that applications for garden cottage permits be processed within 90 days. It also eliminates the requirement for an additional electrical hook up from a utility provider.*

While not a sole solution to the challenge we face in Culver City, if 10% of homeowners added garden cottages to their properties, we could increase our housing stock by approximately 700 units. Tiny houses, similar to RVs in size, either on wheels or built on a foundation, are smaller versions of garden cottages and are permitted in a number of California counties. (Reference http://www.curbed.com/2016/9/22/13002832/tiny-house-zoning-laws-regulations.)

Encouraging the construction of backyard units increases housing diversity, bringing community benefits such as less traffic, more stability, and engaged residents especially in neighborhoods near schools, parks and public transportation like mine. Garden cottages increase the potential to keep our working families and retirees local, enriching economic and age diversity in our neighborhoods and improving the quality of our community.

I plan to attend the Community Conversation on Affordable Housing hosted by Culver City, Saturday January 28, 9 am – 12 pm, in the Multipurpose Room at Veterans Memorial Complex, corner of Overland Ave. and Culver Blvd. You can view the meeting agenda here:  http://www.culvercity.org/Home/Components/Topic/Topic/286/925

I hope I see you there.

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