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Hoping to help housing shortage, 3 Sonoma County companies team to promote granny units

Three Sonoma County companies are joining forces in an effort to make it easier for residents to develop granny units, spurred by state and local policy changes put in place to promote secondary dwellings as part of the solution to the housing crisis.

At the Friedman’s Home Improvement stores in Santa Rosa, Petaluma and Sonoma, customers can find kiosks advertising a suite of floor plans for granny units, much of which come ready-made thanks to Santa Rosa-based HybridCore Homes. The housing company has the “core” sections - including walls, doors, windows, countertops, kitchen appliances and bathroom fixtures - made in a factory, with Friedman’s providing the materials for finishing touches and Redwood Credit Union offering a financing mechanism to make it all pencil out for homeowners.

The companies are tapping into a tool that policymakers see as an easy way to help expand the persistently tight supply of available housing options. With local home prices remaining out of reach for many - Sonoma County’s median home price last month was $620,000 - and vacancy rates low, state legislators and local officials have moved to ease restrictions on granny units and expand their allowable size.

While a proliferation of granny units won’t solve California’s housing crisis alone - Sonoma County officials are also encouraging development of more apartments and single-family homes - they’re seen as one of many mechanisms to provide a much-needed housing boost.

“I like to call them stealth apartments,” said Shaun Faber, co-founder of HybridCore Homes. “If you could spread 1,000 of these around Santa Rosa, you’re that much more ahead with the housing stock.”

David Guhin, Santa Rosa’s director of planning and economic development, said the three companies’ efforts were clearly in line with the city’s goal of encouraging more secondary units. The city and county have moved to promote such units after Gov. Jerry Brown signed a pair of similar bills into law last year.

“It’s an important piece of the housing stock that we’re looking to help facilitate,” Guhin said. “It’s exciting to hear the private side coming together and recognizing that it’s more than policy - it takes the financing, it takes contractors, it takes the labor side to come together and make these things happen.”

For the granny unit project, HybridCore offers eight floor plans and two elevations for the ready-made units, and the company oversees the delivery and placement of the cottages. HybridCore made its name providing a similar model for larger homes, and it’s currently involved with the Paseo Vista subdivision under development in southwest Santa Rosa.

While the “core” granny unit provides many of the dwellings’ key components, homeowners still need more material to make them feel complete - and unique.

“You still have to put a roof on it, you still have to do the siding, you still have to finish it more from the outside than you do on the inside. Those finishing materials are part of a package that we’ve put together,” said Barry Friedman, CEO and president of Friedman’s Home Improvement. “Obviously, with all of the products we sell, we have the plants and the other walkway material or whatever it is you need to finish it to make it a home.”

On the financing side, Redwood Credit Union is offering a home equity line of credit that accesses up to 85 percent of their home’s equity - up to $500,000 - to pay for the unit. HybridCore and Friedman’s estimate the cost of the units will fall in the $150,000 to $300,000 range.

“We saw it as a good way to partner with them to help fulfill and deliver on a solution that, certainly in this market, is a big deal with the way housing affordability is going and all of the challenges there,” said Ron Felder, Redwood Credit Union’s chief lending officer. “It seemed like a win-win if we could work with them to help provide some financing for that.”

You can reach Staff Writer J.D. Morris at 707-521-5337 or jd.morris@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @thejdmorris.

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