Financing and rebate programs, and providing permits in under two days, are among new initiatives City of St. Petersburg administrators hope will encourage homeowners to build accessory dwelling units (ADUs).
Councilmembers have increasingly looked to ADUs, also known as garage apartments or carriage houses, to help mitigate the ongoing affordable housing crisis. During Thursday’s Housing, Land Use and Transportation Committee meeting, they heard how several new measures should help accomplish that goal.
Council Chair Gina Driscoll noted the city received 22 ADU applications since it amended zoning regulations in July. The units are now allowed on about 70% of all St. Petersburg lots, and she said that after identifying something that works, you should look to enhancements.
“And I think we’re going to have significant improvement and a significant increase in the permits once we have this all rolled out,” added Driscoll.
The new initiatives include a partnership with the University of South Florida to develop design templates highlighting how ADUs can incorporate into suburban areas. Liz Abernethy, director of planning and development services, said she is working with the economic development and workforce team to create a developer loan program that could provide up to $10,000 in financing.
In addition, the Community Redevelopment Area (CRA) Residential Rebates for Rehab (RRR) program offers a 40% return on money spent to create an ADU from an existing space. City officials are also implementing a one to two-day turnaround on permits. Abernethy said a dedicated webpage with step-by-step instructions for developers and residents would open in January.
Amy Foster, community affairs administrator, believes the city will hit its three-year goal of 300 new ADUs by the end of 2022. St. Petersburg added just 36 in the decade before 2019.
“The work you’ve been doing toward this, and the work the planning department has done, is making a difference,” said Foster. “And that is the outcome that we’re hoping for with this presentation today.”
The new website, Abernethy explained, will include design templates residents can take to contractors. She said those would help people understand various ways they can implement ADUs. It will also feature a building checklist and answers to frequently asked questions.
She noted that the permitting department is nearing its staffing requirement following hiring challenges. The city, Abernethy said, will advertise the new expedited process once everyone is in place.
She added that officials received more ADU applications through October – 66 – than they did for all of 2021. Abernethy said those numbers began to soar since the July zoning expansion, and “there were folks who were just waiting for that to get their plans in.”
Cities like Boston and Napa, California, offer forgivable business loans to people who build and rent ADUs for less than the market rate, relayed Foster. She said local officials could incorporate something similar, with eligibility based on the homeowner or renter’s income.
While administrators would need to identify a funding source for any potential program in St. Pete, Foster called it an “interesting” idea to get council members thinking.
“I’m very interested in us exploring this in any way, shape or form that we can support our constituents,” said Councilmember Brandi Gabbard. “When it comes to anything that can make their homes more affordable. More hardened, more resilient – all of those things.”
Foster noted that a recent Urban Land Institute (ULI) study highlighted the financing challenges surrounding the creation of ADUs. Those forgivable loan programs, Foster added, were one of the only solutions she and Abernethy found that the city does not currently incorporate.
Councilmember Ed Montanari relayed his approval of everything mentioned until the loan program. He said the private sector should adopt those measures and expressed his worry that the city would take business away from banks and other institutions and accrue more bills to pay.
However, Montanari said he welcomed further discussion on the matter. While administrators finalize the other initiatives, Driscoll suggested finding a financial institution willing to partner on a building loan program.
“I think that might be a better way to go,” she said. “I think that might give Councilmember Montanari less heartburn, and it would encourage others to start following suit.”