Coastal Smart Growth Home: Element 3


Provide a range of housing opportunities and choices to meet the needs of both seasonal and permanent residents

Smart Growth Principle

As individuals pass through various stages of their lives, their housing needs, as well as what they can afford, vary. Young adults just starting out, families, and retired people all need different types of housing, but because of the way housing is built in many communities, they may not be able to stay in the same neighborhood as their needs and income levels change. Communities with smart growth policies meet these challenges by providing a broad range of housing types, with easy access to jobs, schools, shops, and recreation, to meet the needs of households at varying income levels. Implementing this approach lets communities use infrastructure more efficiently, accommodate the housing needs of all residents, and help everyone, from aging citizens to young people getting their first home, remain in the community.

Coastal and Waterfront Context

Waterfront communities face the additional challenge of providing housing for permanent and seasonal residents and workers. Seasonal influxes of visitors and demand for second homes can overwhelm the existing housing supply in resort towns or vacation destinations, driving prices up and adding to the cost premium already associated with land near water. The result is that housing is unaffordable for much of the workforce, such as police officers, teachers, and retail employees, that communities need to grow and thrive. These employees may choose to endure long and costly commutes from less expensive inland locations, generating congestion and pollution. In the long term, affordable housing choices help protect the environment and keep the local economy viable.

Tools & Techniques

For all the challenges that communities have in providing affordable housing, there are a variety of tools to help meet the need. For example, local jurisdictions can use land more efficiently by encouraging flexibility for single family homes, including the construction of accessory dwelling units (ADUs). Detached cottages, spaces above garages, or attic units with separate entrances are all potential homes for seasonal visitors, as well as the elderly, single adults, or young singles and families. These "mother-in-law" apartments can generate seasonal rents for permanent residents and provide affordable options for workers, part-year residents, and seniors. To reap the benefits of ADUs, communities may have to revise their zoning ordinances and building codes and consider the concerns of neighbors, such as the need for increased parking, to ensure that ADUs will not make the look and feel of a neighborhood less appealing. In addition, condo-hotels in a dense, multi-family arrangement can help respond to the demand for second homes and reduce pressure on the existing housing supply. Furthermore, communities can use inclusionary zoning to require developers to construct or pay for new affordable housing units as part of the approval of new developments. Communities that have found the greatest success with inclusionary zoning have offset the additional cost of these requirements with density bonuses for the developer, thereby allowing the affordable units to be constructed at little or no net cost to the builder or the local government.

Where consistent with state and local regulations, well-managed marinas and mooring fields provide another opportunity to increase housing options. Live-aboard vessels can provide an alternative for seasonal and permanent residents in areas with high land and housing costs, although environmental and public access impacts must be addressed. Many marinas in Maryland accommodate live-aboard vessels and protect coastal water quality from adverse effects by adopting environmentally sound operating and maintenance procedures as part of the Clean Marina Initiative.

These land- and water-based approaches help ease pressure to convert undeveloped land into new housing construction, and better distribute the demand for housing over a larger number and wider range of housing types. Yet the coastal premium in home prices requires policies that go beyond expanding the supply of affordable housing to also maintain affordability over time. Deed restrictions can be attached to units developed with public funds to limit the share of appreciation that homeowners can claim upon resale of the units, thereby guaranteeing a permanent supply of affordable housing to local low-wage employees.

In coastal and waterfront economies dependent on tourism, the need to provide affordable workforce housing can be an opportunity to galvanize support among a broad range of stakeholders, including environmentalists, business owners, civic leaders, and other community members. A comprehensive approach to housing that offers options for seasonal and permanent residents, visitors, and workers provides a strong basis for a vibrant and sustainable local economy.

Key Action Options Policies, Tools, and Techniques for Implementation
Provide a range of housing types
Promote affordable housing for permanent and seasonal residents
Maintain affordable housing for permanent and seasonal residents
  • Have community land trusts retain ownership of underlying land while the house is bought and sold, lowering cost for buyers and ensuring long-term affordability
  • Write deed restrictions to maintain permanent affordability


before- accessory dwelling unit, santa cruz, caafter- accessory dwelling unit, santa cruz, ca

The Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) Development program in Santa Cruz, California, allowed for the conversion of a garage into an apartment. Courtesy: City of Santa Cruz

Case Study: Santa Cruz, California

Like many communities in northern California, Santa Cruz has seen its housing costs increase dramatically, in part because of its coastal location on Monterey Bay and its desirability as a vacation, retirement, and second-home destination. In response to concerns over how to retain teachers, police officers, and service workers, the city created an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) Development Program. The program makes it easier for homeowners to build a new structure or to convert all or part of a garage into an ADU. The city revised its zoning ordinance, commissioned design guidelines, and produced architect-generated building prototypes that have been pre-reviewed by city departments, thereby reducing processing time, planning fees, and design costs. To encourage affordable housing, loan and fee waiver programs are available to homeowners who will rent the unit at an affordable level. The program has been successful. In 2003, the program's first full year, 35 accessory units were built-a fourfold increase over the eight units built in 2001. Between 40 and 50 new accessory unit building permits have been issued each year since the program began.