HAC staff and board members were joined for a June 25 Regulatory Committee meeting by Darin Ranelletti, Oakland’s Policy Director for Housing Security, to learn more about proposed changes to Oakland’s planning and building codes which are intended to address housing affordability. These proposals follow ideas from the 2016 Oakland at Home report, also known as the 17k 17k report, which identified strategies for addressing affordability. With funding from MTC and ABAG, Oakland was able to explore one of the issues identified in 2016, cost of construction, and produce a new report, Innovation in Oakland.
Many of the proposed changes address various forms of prefabricated homes, which can be a much lower cost construction solution. The first change would allow residential occupation of tiny homes and RVs on private property. By creating safe standards for this type of residence, Oaklanders would be able to rapidly increase housing capacity on their property at minimal cost. Another update would remove the existing ban on new RVs and manufactured homes. This addresses changes in practices with prefabricated homes which are now built on and attached to foundations as standard practice. Another change which facilitates affordable construction would be the allowance of an extra foot of height per story in modular housing developments. In traditional construction, stacked units share a floor and ceiling. The height of modular units includes a separate floor and ceiling for each unit, slightly increasing the height per floor. Oakland’s Planning & Building department found that some proposed modular projects exceeded height restrictions by just a few feet, creating an unnecessary barrier to their construction.
Recognizing the inherent affordability of smaller units, another proposed strategy to incentivize new housing construction is updating density and open space requirements for small unit projects. By not recognizing the different footprints and sizes of residences, there is presently a disincentive to develop smaller units because they have identical requirements to larger, more profitable, projects.
Finally, Oakland’s Planning & Building Department is proposing more flexible standards for tiny houses and alternative building materials. The changes reflect those already adopted in California Residential Code (CRC). CRC Appendix Q addresses tiny homes while Appendices R and S create standards for light straw clay construction and straw bale construction. These innovative techniques can address affordability in construction. Additionally, they reduce the embodied carbon of a project, helping meet pressing climate goals.
The proposed changes have gone before the Planning Commission and were forwarded to the city council with notes. HAC looks forward to following the progress of these common sense updates, which promote affordable housing development on a variety of timelines.