San Mateo County

Frequently Asked Questions

You've got questions, we've got answers! And if we don't have the answer right away, we'll figure it out! Please check back periodically to learn the latest about Bright in Your Own Backyard. Click on the magnifying glass to search these FAQs with keywords.

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Please note that the application deadline for the initial

round of Bright in Your Own Backyard in Unincorporated San Mateo County, East Palo Alto, Pacifica and Redwood City has passed and we are now accepting applications on a rolling basis should additional spots open up.

Who should apply for Bright in Your Own Backyard?

Homeowners who meet the basic eligibility criteria and have decided that they want to build an ADU should apply. If you aren’t ready to start now or are still saving up to build your ADU, we encourage you to subscribe for updates. We will continue to raise funds with the intention of supporting additional application rounds. For now, we have a limited number of spots and need to prioritize households that are ready to act by committing their time and resources now.

How do I know if I am ready?

For starters, you might be ready if your household has had conversations about building an ADU and has come to some decisions about moving forward and how you will finance it.

Other companies advertise as offering ADU project management or even "one stop shop" services. How is Bright in Your Own Backyard different?

Great question! Here are some features that make our program special:

  • Bright in Your Own Backyard helps you bring everything you need under one trusted roof! Some firms do design-build, but they may not be able to help you determine what your family can afford, refer you to a competitor, or help you understand what landlord responsibilities apply in your city.
  • As a nonprofit, we are able to offer quality project management services, but at no cost to selected homeowners in our Pilot Communities, thanks to the support of our government partners and philanthropic funders.
  • Bright in Your Own Backyard is administered by Hello Housing, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit housing organization, which means we don’t have a financial conflict of interest nor profit motive in working with you. Our goal is to help you realize your ADU vision, not to push you into a product or service we are selling or promoting.

What are the eligibility requirements for me to participate?

  • Your property must be residentially zoned and located within East Palo Alto, Redwood City, Pacifica, or an unincorporated area of San Mateo County.
  • You must own your home and occupy it as your primary residence at the time of application and throughout the second unit construction process.
  • Once your second unit is completed, you must occupy one unit (either the primary home or the second unit) and rent out the other to a bona fide tenant, which may be a family member or friend/acquaintance.
  • You must commit to rent one unit (either the second unit or, if you choose to move to the second unit, your primary home) for a period of at least 3 years following completion of your second unit. If you stay in your primary home, the completed second unit must be rented at a rate that is affordable to tenants who earn less than the Area Median Income (AMI) in San Mateo County. As an example, monthly rent limits based on 2019 AMI are as follows: $2,822 for a studio unit, $3,022 for a 1-bedroom unit, and $3,626 for a 2-bedroom unit.
  • You must have access to financial resources to fully finance the design and construction of your second unit. Bright in Your Own Backyard offers free feasibility and project management services but not construction capital. We hope to connect homeowners to financial resources to support construction costs in future iterations of the Bright in Your Own Backyard.
  • You must agree to participate in Hello Housing-approved landlord and fair housing training prior to entering into a lease with a tenant.
  • Because this is a pilot program, an important aspect is our evaluation what worked well for homeowners and what could be improved. Participating homeowners must agree to participate in our evaluation activities, such as filling out occasional surveys and engaging in one or more interviews about their experience in the pilot. Homeowner feedback allows us to improve processes and (we hope!) showcase successful projects to inspire other homeowners to build an ADU on their property.

What is expected of me if I participate?

  • We expect you to meet all eligibility criteria for the program (see above), including owner-occupancy, commitment to applicable rent caps, access to sufficient financial resources to support all design and construction costs without financial assistance from Bright in Your Own Backyard, and your commitment to participate in landlord training and program evaluation activities.

  • We expect you to be available to meet with your project team on occasion during the business hours Monday through Friday.

  • We expect you to be willing and able to get all household members and decision-makers on the same page. Your family or household does not need to be in total agreement about your goals when you apply, but we will need you to get there before we can help you proceed with the design and construction phases of your second unit project.

Should I apply if I've already started my project, but now I'm stuck?

You are welcome to apply, however your project’s ultimate fit for Bright in Your Own Backyard’s free services may depend, in part, on your project’s specific circumstances.

Should I apply if I own a home in a pilot jurisdiction that I currently rent to a tenant, and I would like to add an ADU and then move into the ADU once completed?

No, you must be living in your home at the time of application and throughout the entire second unit construction process (unless the construction itself requires temporary relocation).

Should I apply if my home already has a second unit, and I would like to add a third unit? Or I would like to add a second and third unit at the same time?

Yes! We invite you to apply!

Should I apply if I would like to build a pre-fab second unit on my property?

Yes! We invite you to apply! Depending on the prefab builder you choose, our services may be modified to match their process.

Should I apply if my primary home needs work that I’d like to handle at the same time as adding an ADU?

You are welcome to apply, however your project’s fit for Bright in Your Own Backyard’s free services will depend, in part, how much work is needed on your primary home.

Should I apply if I plan to rent to a family member?

Yes, so long as you have a Hello Housing-approved bona fide lease with your family member that meets the requirements of the program (e.g. the rent charged is at or below the rent limits established by the program).

Should I apply if I have an unpermitted second unit that I would like help legalizing?

No, it’s not the right fit for Bright in Your Own Backyard. But, if you live in unincorporated San Mateo County, please check out the San Mateo County Second Unit Amnesty Program, for guidance. This program also offers a companion loan program for income-qualified homeowners. Many other jurisdictions are currently considering ADU amnesty programs to comply with new state laws that went into effect January 1, 2020, so check with your local planning and building department.

Do I get to choose my own tenant?

Yes! Participating homeowners will select their own tenant. If you know someone you would like to rent to, you are welcome to do so, so long as you enter into a lease with the tenant that meets the requirements of the program (see below for details). If you would like assistance finding the right tenant, we can refer you to Bright in Your Own Backyard’s tenant matchmaking partners. It is important to note that in advertising your unit, screening applicants, and selecting a tenant, you must comply with all applicable fair housing laws. Mandatory landlord training for Bright in Your Own Backyard participants will help ensure that you understand these laws and other landlord responsibilities.

Do I get to choose my own architect, designer, and/or builder?

Yes, you will be the one to choose the product type and design/construction professionals for your project. We are here to help guide you through that selection process, helping you understand various product types (from pre-fabricated/modular to on-site panelized construction to traditional “stick-build” construction) and connecting you to a list of experienced professionals. Once we have plans in hand, we will perform value engineering (working with you to fit your dream project into your reality budget), take your project out to bid, review bids for cost reasonableness, help you understand variability and discrepancies in bids, and provide a standard homeowner-contractor agreement that protects your interests.

Are pre-approved plans available?

Bright in Your Own Backyard does not offer (or require!) the use of pre-approved plans, however some pilot jurisdictions are in the process of developing pre-approved plans. As these plans become available, we will notify you in case this makes sense for your project. You are also welcome to choose an off-the-shelf pre-fab or modular product and we will adapt our services to make sense with this product type.

How many homeowners will Bright in Your Own Backyard serve and what are my chances of being selected?

Our first round of funding supports our helping up to 18 homeowners add second units. We are actively fundraising to expand the number of homeowners we can serve within our pilot communities, and to expand the communities we are serving. We anticipate meeting with many more than 18 households to explore project feasibility and readiness for the program, so don’t be discouraged by a high lottery number. It is our goal that we start adding value from our first interaction, whether or not you are ultimately selected to participate in this first round.

Are there any limits on my income or my future tenant's income to participate?

No. There are no income requirements for either for you or your tenants. Second units must be rented at a rate at or below the applicable rent cap, but your tenants need not meet any specific income requirements. That said, we truly hope your reasonable rents will benefit tenants who otherwise can’t afford to live in your community!

I don’t live in one of the four pilot communities, but I do live in San Mateo County.  Will Bright in Your Own Backyard be available to other cities and towns in the future?

We hope so! Subscribe for updates and feel free to send us a note with your request for these services to be made available in your community.

If I’m not eligible or not selected to participate in Bright in Your Own Backyard, can you refer me to other ADU service providers?

Making smart referrals would require us to have some familiarity with your project and your specific needs, and as a nonprofit organization we do not have the resources to do the necessary homework for free. However, if you live in a pilot community, Hello Housing may be available to provide feasibility and project management services at a reasonable hourly rate. Please contact us if interested in learning more.

How much financial capacity do I need to show in order to qualify for Bright in Your Own Backyard? What documents do I need to provide?

It will depend on the type of project you are planning to build. For example, a detached 2-bedroom ADU will cost significantly more than a conversion of an existing bedroom and bathroom into a Junior ADU. Once we have completed a Remote Assessment and phone interview and have a better understanding of your project scope, we will share a ballpark number. Acceptable documentation of financial capacity includes financial account statements, loan pre-approval letters or loan documents from lenders, and gift letters.

How will my property taxes be affected if I build a second unit?

ADU advocates are actively seeking clarity on this important question! Please refer to the San Mateo County Assessor’s Office for their latest updates on ADUs.

What is the purpose of Bright in Your Own Backyard?

Bright in Your Own Backyard will offer participating homeowners free ADU feasibility and project management services from nonprofit organization Hello Housing. Our goal is to make it easier for homeowners to navigate the complex and often confusing process of designing, financing, permitting, constructing and leasing an ADU. We believe that partnering with homeowners like you to create new housing units in your community can help move the needle on addressing the Bay Area’s housing crisis.

Simply put, we want more people to build ADUs and we want to help make it easier!