We Need Emergency Housing Now!

October 13, 2017

We’ve made great strides in the past few months toward creating housing in Marin County. A unit was recently completed in San Anselmo, one is under construction in Novato, another is waiting for permits in San Rafael, seven are in the contractor selection phase, and three are being designed. We’ve helped guide all these homeowners through the process, and before long they will be generating income by housing grateful renters. We think of these flexible living spaces as an insurance policy built into homes. Because, as we all know, life is unsure. And when unforeseen events occur, there may be a need for additional income or housing. 

The tragedy this week could not make this point any more apparent.  I was one of the people forced to evacuate as fires raged through Kenwood, and overnight our work at Lilypad became even more critical. Who doesn’t know at least one person who was displaced and now needs a place to live for a few weeks, months, or even years, while they regroup, repair, and/or rebuild? Most of the people I know are now staying with family or friends in Marin County. And the county has been wonderfully responsive, offering much needed assistance to the thousands who were affected.

Many displaced people will end up sleeping in spare bedrooms and sharing kitchens without much privacy or comfort. Wouldn’t it be great if most homes were equipped with a small flexible apartment that could come and go as needed, especially in emergencies? Having a junior unit in the majority of homes would make dealing with fires, earthquakes, and floods more manageable. It would be gratifying to me, not only in my role at Lilypad as a proponent of flexible housing, but also as a person who had to evacuate in the middle of the night and is now waiting to find out what damage was done. But I am lucky, as my home is one of the few left standing in our neighborhood.

The North Bay can take this tragedy and use it as a call to action. What if municipalities quickly put programs in place to streamline the process of creating junior units, helping homeowners to provide emergency housing? These units would serve as a supportive launch pad to help the people who lost their homes as they rebuild. Unfortunately, there are a great many homes that need to be repaired and rebuilt. But what if an ADU was added to even a quarter of those homes? That could produce a lot of new homes and provide additional income to those who have been impacted by this devastating event.  

You can help by contacting the planning director and the city council in your town, as well as the Board of Supervisors, and asking them to institute an over-the-counter permit for junior units and greatly reducing fees to streamline the process.