McKMAC goes into detail on housing

Jack Durham
Mad River Union

MCKINLEYVILLE – Building mother-in-law units, tiny house villages and creating more affordable housing were among the topics discussed Feb. 27 by the McKinleyville Municipal Advisory Committee (McKMAC).

The committee and more than 30 residents gathered at Azalea Hall to hear a presentation on the update of the Humboldt County Housing Element. The evening turned out to be a freewheeling conversation amongst attendees on a variety of housing topics, with various ideas shared on how to tackle the local housing crisis.

Change the town’s name?

About 11 and a half hours before the statue of President William McKinley was plucked from the Arcata Plaza, Erik Yahmo Ahqha Rydberg addressed the McKMAC near the beginning of its  meeting during public comments. He asked the committee to consider in the future discussing “overlapping issues of racism embedded in McKinleyville.”

Rydberg said the town should consider removing the World’s Largest Totem Pole and consider changing McKinleyville’s name.

Local tribes did not have totem poles, Rydberg said, and the one at the McKinleyville Shopping Center was not carved by Indians. The pole is cartoonish, said Rydberg, who is a Pomo. 

“It’s cultural appropriation,” Rydberg said. “It’s a hurtful thing for indigenous people to see that.”

As for the town’s name, Rydberg said President McKinley’s record while in office included colonial expansion, the taking of Hawaii and Puerto Rico, and the bloody Spanish American War, with indigenous people suffering in the United States and abroad.

Being that these issues were not on the agenda, the committee did not discuss them further.

McK’VILLE ICON The McKinleyville Shopping Center’s totem pole. Union file photo

Housing Element

The main event for the night was an overview of the Humboldt County Housing Element, which Senior Planner Michelle Nielsen described as a “roadmap for residential development in unincorporated areas of the county.” The document, which is required by the state and must be updated by this August, includes programs and policies for building more housing. 

Although the document sets forth rules that are supposed to encourage development, “it doesn’t build houses,” Nielsen said.

Actual development would depend upon the desires of private property owners, investors, market forces and the availability of grant money to build subsidized housing.

The plan anticipates that Humboldt County will need 3,390 more housing units through the year 2027. Of those, unincorporated Humboldt County, of which McKinleyville is a part, was allocated 1,413 units. It’s estimated that McKinleyville could end up with 900 of those units.

County staff told the McKMAC that the state requires that the county make a good-faith effort in trying to achieve this housing goals. So how, exactly, would the county encourage the building  of very low, low and moderate income housing in unincorporated Humboldt County and McKinleyville?

One option is secondary dwelling units, also known as mother-in-law units or  granny flats. Tiny houses also come into play.

Granny flats

Since the Housing Element was last updated in 2014, state housing laws have been changed in an effort to make it easier for people to build secondary housing units.

For example, granny flats are now principally permitted in zones that allow single-family or multi-family homes. That means permits can be issued over the counter and no planning commission approval is needed. Garages and carports may be converted to mother-in-law units. Also, existing garages can be converted and do not need to meet setback standards. There have also been changes in parking standards and other building requirements.

But if you live in the Coastal Zone, you’ll still need to coastal development permit.

McKMAC member Ben Shepherd said that the county should encourage secondary units not only in urban areas, but also in rural parts of Humboldt. Not everyone wants to live in urban areas, Shepherd said.

Tiny houses

Another option for providing secondary units is to change the regulations so people can locate tiny houses on wheels on their properties. These houses are built on trailer beds and can be towed like a travel trailer.

Tiny houses on wheels are considered similar to RVs and can only be located for permanent living in mobile home or special occupancy parks. The county is considering changing the law to allow to allow them on single-family properties.

The McKMAC briefly debated whether more than one tiny house should be allowed on a lot, with the possibility of there being multiple “secondary” units.

Shepherd said he supported allowing one tiny house as a secondary unit, but said additional tiny houses should require further permitting, with an opportunity for neighborhood input.

New McKMAC member Mary Burke spoke in favor of having clustered tiny homes, maybe five or so together, but agreed that there would need to be a public approval process.

Fifth District Supervisor Steve Madrone noted that tiny houses can cost $30,000 to $50,000 to build, and that doesn’t include the connection fees for hooking up to sewer and water. An even less expensive option is for people to build what Madrone called detached bedrooms. 

Madrone said that McKinleyville and Hoopa high schools are creating a class to teach youth how to build tiny houses. He said he’s also spoken to the Hoopa Tribal Council about creating a tiny house factory at the tribe’s old modular home factory.




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