Windsor California is now laying the groundwork for the next major revision to the General Plan – Windsor 2040. Kudos to what looks to have been an advanced approach to getting feedback from the community, but unfortunately I didn’t see anything announcing it or promoting it during the submission time range. After discussion though, it looks like there may still be time to formulate and submit ideas for how small and tiny homes will be addressed in our planning and zoning framework. We’ll do our best.
Last night I composed our initial proposal for one simple idea to get the ball rolling. It is focused exclusively on tiny homes on wheels and suggests an application process to let homeowners set them up as accessory dwellings after passing design review and paying a permit fee. Our idea is to allow them under any of three circumstances:
- to provide affordable family or neighborhood based student housing
- to provide housing to support the elderly or those who need care
- to increase affordable housing by allowing folks with payments exceeding 30% of their income to create well designed affordable tiny homes for rent to low income people
The intention is to enable folks to benefit from tiny house solutions in the most frequently needed ways; elders to downsize or live near family with dignity, youth to be independent at a lower cost, those in career transition to reduce expenses while training and job seeking, divorced families to separate with less strain, and those with financial stressors to better balance mortgage payments against fluctuating or declining income.
Please read through the idea. We’d love to hear feedback and answer any questions. The next step is to make a slideshow version.
TO: Windsor Town Council – General Plan Windsor 2040
Converging trends demand new solutions for affordable housing, especially rentals:
- foreclosures and rising rental demand throughout Sonoma County
- retiring Baby Boomers transitioning to fixed incomes in huge numbers
- elimination of affordable housing agencies in California in 2012 due to federal budget cuts
- skyrocketing cost of education and challenging terms in education lending
- growing gap between wages and “average” housing costs
It’s clear we need more affordable housing for students, elders, and families in transition woven into the fabric of the community. But without federal subsidies, it’s hard to find funding. We need a flexible affordable housing solution. What better than one created by those affected?
Let’s discuss allowing tiny homes on wheels as accessory dwellings in Windsor with a permit and an annual fee. These custom homes range from 120 to 200 square feet on a permanent chassis and are set up on demand, custom tailored to individual sites and needs. With charm and curb appeal, these portable homes can ease life’s transitions for as long as needed, then be towed away with a pickup when the need passes.
Windsor allows second dwelling units, with requirements for architectural compatibility and available parking. The Sonoma County PRMD allows temporary units on wheels for a few specific purposes. Their permitting process includes common sense guidelines and requirements for hooking up to sanitary and electrical systems safely, but only apply on land in unincorporated Sonoma County.
We see a viable path forward combining these ordinances as policy governing the use of tiny homes on wheels in Windsor residential zones. An initial permit application could require plans, elevations, site photos, and a plan check fee. Annual renewals could require a smaller fee and recent photos.
We suggest an application process so homeowners can host tiny homes for specific purposes:
- property owners to live in during remodeling or construction of a primary residence
- people who need care; as housing for the person needing care or the caregiver
- students attending high school, college, college preparation courses, or vocational training
- affordable rental housing (owners must show mortgage payment is >30% of income, live on site, and rent at affordable rates to low income tenants
Tiny homes as accessory units can give the most vulnerable folks of Windsor the flexibility they need to make mortgage payments and stay in their homes, afford higher education, live near family with dignity, or live frugally to save toward property ownership. I liken the tiny house fever sweeping the nation to an immune system response reacting to the mortgage crisis. Let’s give it a chance to do its good work right here.
With warm regards from your neighbors,
Paprika Clark and Dylan Pankow
Sources Resources and Further Reading
Rents soar in Sonoma County 8/10/14
Affordable housing crisis in Sonoma County 8/5/14
THE STATE OF WORKING SONOMA IN 2013 Income Inequality, Poverty and Low-Wage Employment
Town of Windsor Planning Documents
Windsor Demographic and Income Profile 2013
Sonoma County Rules Allow Little Houses
2015 Sonoma County Indicators, Economic Development Board
Economic and Demographic Profile Sonoma County 2012-13
Sonoma County, City Data
Sonoma County Affordable Housing Program Requirements and Incentives
What is Affordable Housing? East Bay Housing Organizations
2015 Federal Poverty Guidelines 1/22/15
We’re Paprika Clark and Dylan Pankow, partners with backgrounds in design, construction, landscaping, and automotive, which positioned us to do something about it when bitten by the tiny house bug in 2008. Now we operate Bungalow to Go, a home based business offering small house teaching, consulting, drafting, and design since 2012. Tiny homes have changed our lives and we want to do everything we can to help others enjoy similar yet unique opportunities to simplify and rebuild around heartfelt principles.