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San Jose Streamlines Permits, Approvals To Build Affordable Backyard 'Granny Units'

SAN JOSE (KPIX) - San Jose is forging a path to faster, affordable housing through the residents' backyards.

City leaders, recognizing the prolonged permit and approval process for so-called "granny units" as onerous, expensive, and time-consuming, sought to revamp and streamline the steps and cut red tape.

"Welcome to ADU Tuesdays," said Mayor Sam Liccardo, at a press event in the permit office, surrounded by dozens of contractors, builders and homeowners going on about their daily business, typically waiting hours to have permits and plans approved.

ADU, an acronym for "additional dwelling unit", is the formal name for what has become known as "in-law units", "granny units", or "backyard homes".

"ADU Tuesdays" is a city hall-wide focus to ease the burden on property owners who wish to build the units, expediting the process and reducing costs.

They city launched a new online portal,, to help inexperienced homeowners navigate the process. Staff also created a "universal checklist", which consolidates the various requirements across the array of city departments.

Master plans with pre-approved designs offer lower cost and faster approval than custom designs and on Tuesdays, ADU customers wait in an "express lane" for faster service.

Qualifying projects also have access to a team of inspectors that review the plans in the same room all at once, providing "express service", a process that can typically take weeks.

"You actually meet with staff from planning, building, fire and public works to actually review your plans and actually get you out in 90 minutes or less. So you walk out with a permit for your ADU," said Rosalynn Hughey, Director of Planing and Building.

The city also introduced Sarah Shull, San Jose's new "ADU Ally", a full-time employee dedicated to helping anxious homeowners navigate the complexities of ADU construction permits.

"You're not alone. There are lots of people who don't know where to start in the process, or how to move forward. So I really have their back. You're safe with me," said Shull.

Councilmember Pam Foley, of District 9, was the co-author on many of the ADU streamlining initiatives.

"Everything that we're doing is moving forward to helping homeowners take advantage of the real estate that they own and build something that can benefit our housing shortage," said Foley.

About 180,000 homes qualify for ADUs. San Jose has seen ADU applications rise sharply from 2016, when the city received about 40 for the year. Now, the city receives about 40 per month, and expects that number to grow rapidly with the easing of rules, and forgivable construction loans through the Silicon Valley Housing Trust.

Mayor Liccardo commented on what could be an impending granny unit construction boom.

"We're ready to be the most ADU friendly city in California," said Liccardo, "As the word is getting out that backyard homes can get built, that they're easier to finance, they're easier to get through city hall, and we want to make it better for folks in the future."

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