A line of garage doors replaced by other boards with murals on them.
All those garage doors are now granny flats. Photo by Lydia Chávez

Calling grannies, in-laws, and whoever else. This week’s short and sweet Mission Moves is about something else short and sweet: Accessory dwelling units. Let’s take a look-see.

From garages to granny flats

Turns out, garages can be more than a place for storing your crap or jumpstarting your “billion-dollar startup idea.” 

Mission Housing has converted garages at 18th and San Carlos streets into three fully affordable, electrified accessory dwelling units, or ADUs (also known as granny flats or in-law units). No matter what you call them, or who resides within, ADUs are smaller homes that tend to be built in a backyard or are attached to the main residence. 

San Francisco piloted legalizing ADUs in 2014, in part because many were erected without the proper permits, and expanded the program officially in 2016. And, with new legislation like SB9, which proposed splitting lots, developers and legislators are increasingly looking toward constructing ADUs to maximize housing density and stretch the city’s finite resource of land. 

“For us, it’s wonderful. We can utilize really small spaces,” said Kevin Kitchingham, Mission Housing’s director of housing development and construction. 

I took a look into one at 3434 18th St. and found it studio-like, in size and amenities. The city’s planning department said ADUs are generally cheaper to build. Kitchingham agreed, explaining that land costs are taken out of the equation because Mission Housing or other builders already own the land.  

The ADUs at 3434 18th St. have become increasingly popular for non-family members. I know one friend and his partner live in an ADU in Berkeley (the cutest pad ever!) and a friend’s sister occupies one in San Mateo, post-college. “This trend toward densification is definitely going to continue,” said Howard Blecher, the principal architect of Blecher Building + Urban Design, which designed the ADUs.

Sure, it would take heaps of ADUs to make a decent dent in the housing crisis, but every unit counts, including  Mission Housing’s three units. Its units will be listed on DAHLIA, the city’s affordable housing website, said executive director Sam Moss. 

“Legalizing granny flats, or allowing ADUs, is just another tool in the toolbox; it’s not meant to solve all the issues,” Kitchingham said. 

These particular ADUs will go to residents who earn 55 percent of the area median income. Easy accessibility also makes them attractive for anyone with mobility issues. The ground floor is far preferable, to, say, Victorians with millions of stairs. 

In this particular case, Mission Housing was able to bring affordable units online faster, too. The flats at 3434 18th St. bypassed the city’s onerous permitting process, thanks to legislation from Sen. Scott Wiener. That legislation allows ADUs to be built automatically, or by right, if the building had a structural retrofit, said Moss. 

A thumbs-up by Mayor Breed, who in 2018 issued an executive directive to speed garage conversions, didn’t hurt, either

Mission Housing knocked out another common adversary to affordable housing: Funding. The nonprofit funded the units independently, leveraging money it raised from other projects. Each unit cost $650,000, including the costs of retrofitting. 

The ADUs are ready to go, but won’t open until PG&E can come to the site and increase the service. That could happen anytime in the next few weeks, if the weather permits. Understandably, Kitchingham said, PG&E canceled the electrification appointment to deal with the weather. 

“This week, they are on storm duty,” Kitchingham said. “I imagine they are on storm duty for a while.”

Have a question or tidbit about the neighborhood or development? Let me know, and it may make it into a new Mission Moves.


Your contribution is appreciated.

Follow Us

REPORTER. Annika Hom is our inequality reporter through our partnership with Report for America. Annika was born and raised in the Bay Area. She previously interned at SF Weekly and the Boston Globe where she focused on local news and immigration. She is a proud Chinese and Filipina American. She has a twin brother that (contrary to soap opera tropes) is not evil.

Follow her on Twitter at @AnnikaHom.

Join the Conversation


Please keep your comments short and civil. Do not leave multiple comments under multiple names on one article. We will zap comments that fail to adhere to these short and very easy-to-follow rules.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. the idea that these ADUs will be liveable as well as details about space and amenities is left out.
    just like the pols like to claim jobs they created, no one ever notes the quality of those jobs which like the JobsNow program were nothing more than (sh**thole) service positions paying poor (liveable) wages.

    go home! … if you have one

  2. $650,000 per unit. Let’s see, a “small studio” is probably 500-600 ft sq. So this is a unit that cost $1000-1200/ft. Thats equivalent to new construction. And no storage (plus less for existing residents!)

    1. Out at Ocean Beach the carpenters’ union been busy rehabbing a dozen units or so to the tune of one million per unit, which is pretty much the going price for subsidized housing developments in northern CA these days. In light of this, a $650k garage conversion doesn’t sound terribly out of the swimlane. Which of course, given the price tag, is assured to net, at best, a trickle of new housing. This has got to come down substantially if we want to see some meaningful workforce housing development. Modular units would be a great start, but the aforementioned union ganged up with Local 38 and a few others to push back, so that’s that.

  3. OK, this is a start, but:
    – How much red tape did they have to wade through for this? Planning, building, fire, HVAC, PUC (water, sewer, sidewalks), PG&E, what else?
    – How much did the building owners have to give up for it? OK, they lost storage for a car/junk. But how does this affect the rest of the building re: rent control, fire sprinkler/alarm systems/elevators?
    The City puts small developments through the same wringer that large multi million dollar developments with teams of hired professionals know how to wade through. I can’t see anyone putting themselves through this.

  4. Yup, most owners of single family homes will not do this (the rent control issue mentioned above). And it doesn’t pencil out for most small bldg owners either, as the building cost is too high, as you normally have structural, foundation, lowering the floor, etc. issues which are very expensive. To wit, only a non profit with gov funding can spend $650k per unit to build tiny ground level units- not a good value! The program sounds good, but in reality very few buildings converted so far.

  5. Campers,

    The Future is Underground.

    Build to survive a nuclear attack.

    Doesn’t take lots.

    Just a foot of dirt atween you and the blast.

    There, I told you how to survive.

    Now whatcha gonna do ??

    Go Niners !!


  6. An important caveat for doing this is for owners of single family homes. These are exempt from rent control BUT if you add an ADU to a SFH then not only is the ADU under rent control but the owner has shot himself in the foot because the main house is also now under rent control.

    Ditto for condos.

    So the take-up for this is a lot less than had ADUs been exempted from rent control.