Accessory apartment incentive launches

In Juneau it pays to be part of the solution.

A year-long effort to introduce an accessory apartment grant is set to launch Dec. 21. The City and Borough of Juneau Assembly appropriated $72,000 for a second draft of the program in July, but Lands and Resources Manager Greg Channey said it’s proven a difficult system to set up. After creating a software program, managing staff training and getting the OK from the legal department, all that’s left is for homeowners to apply.

“We’ve been talking about this program for a while now and people have said they would be interested in it, but we haven’t had a program to offer them,” Channey said. “Now we do, and I think they’ll be happy.”

The program, which Channey described as “innovative” and a “Juneau-original,” is designed to nudge people on the fence about apartment development on their property with a $6,000 incentive. Channey said in reality such a feat might cost someone close to $70,000. A little backing from the city might be the final push some need.

Accessory apartment builders must be compliant with CBJ Title 19, Title 49 and the Engineering Code. Also, only one grant per lot is permitted. The grant will not be distributed until the unit is completed and a occupancy certificate is obtained, verifying occupancy is possible. The grant will be awarded to the first 12 applicants who complete their project on time.

In a previous Empire article it was reported that Assembly member Jessie Kiehl objected to the ordinance appropriating funds for the program, citing concerns the investment would not promise a return. Channey said he is confident the investment will prove worthwhile for the city in the long run.

“There is a wonderful return in that we would have 12 new rental units available, that’s a great return,” Channey said. “Monetary wise, we don’t get paid back like we would with a loan with interest, but when people build an accessory apartment that increases their property value and with property taxes we’ll get the money back eventually, but we have a housing crisis right now.”

Although the grant calls for the development of a “new” apartment, that does not limit homeowners to separate extensions on the home or developments separated from the home. Remodeling an area of the home to be apartment-ready is also a possibility. The end goal is simply “more dwelling units on the market,” Channey said.

Despite some concern in the past by Assembly members that a rent cap be set, Channey said the addition of more units will naturally drive down prices. That in combination with the size limit set by accessory apartment code – a maximum of 600 square feet of net floor area – rent should remain reasonable.

According to a press release, CBJ Planning manger Beth McKibben described the incentive as one step toward solving Juneau’s larger housing insufficiencies, but one that relies on the community.

“Here we have homeowners taking the lead to address Juneau’s need for housing, and the City would like to encourage these efforts as we design more affordable housing opportunities in the future,” McKibben said.

Juneau Affordable Housing Commission Chairwoman Tamara Rowcroft was part of an initial push for the accessory apartment grant in January the Assembly ultimately rejected. Seeing the project in the final phase before applications are accepted has Rowcroft excited with what this could mean for Juneau’s future.

“There are a fair number of untapped opportunities for local homeowners to put accessory apartments in their homes,” Rowcroft said. “This is a nice way to get more units on the market without building a whole building.”

Since 2010 68 accessory apartments have been permitted with more applicants each year, Rowcroft said.

“Hopefully there will be 12 more (permits) next year,” Rowcroft said.

For more information contact the CBJ Permit Center at 586-0770. A copy of the application can be found at www.juneau.org/lands.

• Contact reporter Paula Ann Solis at 523-2272 or at paula.solis@juneauempire.com.

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