LA program cuts red tape for homeowners looking to expand property

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- If you own a home, you likely need more space. Maybe your family is growing or you are working from home due to the pandemic. In some cases, offsetting the cost of buying a home in Southern California has homeowners considering what's called an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU).

"I figured it was natural. I wanted to housing more affordable for myself and be able to help out other friends and family if they needed housing," said homeowners Susan Lieu.

In 2017, state legislation allowed for the construction of ADUs, also known as "Granny Flats," in municipalities that had previously prohibited them, but restrictions still vary from city to city, which can lead to years of red tape. It's something Stephanie Vassallo is very familiar with.

"We started with an architect and the design process went on for the last two years and we kept pouring money into it and pouring money into it, and it felt really uncomfortable and we didn't know when it would end," she said.



In an effort to remove some of those obstacles, the city of L.A. launched the Standard Plan Program last month.

"Typically, there's a fair amount of back and forth between the homeowner and the Department of Building and Safety. We wanted to cut all of that process out," said Christopher Hawthorne, the chief design officer for the city of Los Angeles.

The Standard Plan Program streamlines the long permitting process by offering pre-approved ADU designs, turning the process into more of an over-the-counter transaction. Initially about 10 architectural firms submitted plans that can be found at the Los Angeles City Building and Safety Department website.

"We think even now in the early phases, we think there's a wide variety of options, and a homeowner would be able to find an approach that would work for them.," said Hawthorne.

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For Vassallo, she found just what she was looking for.

"It already is permitted, it's already structurally correct, it's already environmentally and energy correct, and it's the design, we can work with this design. The more I looked at it, the more excited I got," Vassallo said.

For the architects who quickly joined the project, it was a way to help solve the housing crisis, while stabilizing communities with beautiful designs.

"This is really, I see this as a way to engage with the community in a different way, a way to really bring our creative hat and provide a solution that can be very impactful to people," says Kulapat Yantrasast, an architect and founder of WHY.

Linda Taalman, director of IT House Inc. added, "It was a challenge to come up with a very good design that we liked, that also was very compact, and affordable. And that could work with a wide variety of sites."

Building a small house is still building a house and presents challenges. Those challenges makes L.A.'s Standard Plan Program a welcome solution for Lieu.

"Every city does their own thing. So I'm really glad that I got something in the city of LA that has the process to kind of fast track and help with the permitting process," she said.

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