Scott Johnson: Carpenter Turned Community Leader Directing Napa Sonoma ADU Center

Scott Johnson, director of the Napa Sonoma ADU Center stands in a home improvement store with lumber in the background. He is a mid-40's white man with brown hair and a blue collared shirt.

We are thrilled to have Scott Johnson leading the way at Napa Sonoma ADU Center, a program we first launched in 2020 to encourage local residents to take part in the solution to our affordable housing crisis. The Center helps Napa and Sonoma county homeowners with the building process for Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), which can be built by almost any homeowner, and tend to rent at more affordable rates, even without subsidies.

Scott assumed the directorship of the ADU Center in early 2023, and he brings a steadfast dedication to affordable housing and sustainable development. He explains, “Before I went to planning school, I was a carpenter. And I liked building things. I’ve always been interested in how our cities grow and develop,” Scott’s blend of practical and theoretical knowledge equips him with the tools necessary to help transform our communities.

Scott’s journey into affordable housing started outside of an office or a classroom. His passion for housing was born out of personal necessity during his teen years in Petaluma. He shares, “Housing has always been personally important. I was housing insecure as a teenager and lived through the inability to find affordable housing.”

Scott had to get creative and lived, like many young people, in small houses with a lot of roommates to be able to afford to stay in Sonoma County. This early experience fuels his drive and empathy, cornerstones of his work at Napa Sonoma ADU Center.

Having access to stable housing isn’t something he takes for granted, and he hopes to be able to pay it forward with his own ADU project in the coming years. He’s grappling with the same issues he helps homeowners navigate. He admits, “I live this, too; I have my own ADU project, which is currently stalled out due to technical planning issues.”

As the ADU Center’s director, Scott doesn’t shy away from the realities of ADU development. He works alongside homeowners to support them through a process that can often feel overwhelming. “The truth is, most folks have never done a project like this,” Scott explains. “We provide a lot of the info they need to get started. What it’s like to interact with the planning department, what a building permit is, and how to prepare an application and submit plans. That information isn’t always easily available. Planning departments are set up for professional developers to come in and pitch projects. We provide support to get homeowners to the point where they can go and have an informed path forward.”

Even before joining the Napa Sonoma ADU Center, Scott was immersed in the housing world. After the 2017 wildfires, which destroyed thousands of homes across Napa and Sonoma Counties, Scott helped found a design-build firm, 8th Wave, and he acted as a thought partner in launching Napa Sonoma ADU Center. “Napa Valley Community Foundation and Community Foundation Sonoma County wanted to do something about housing after the fires. As a small builder, we were in the room to help define how the foundations could help people with housing and ADUs.”

When the opportunity arose to join the Napa Sonoma ADU Center, Scott didn’t hesitate. He recounts, “Renée Schomp, Napa Sonoma ADU Center’s director at the time, called and asked if I was interested in providing technical assistance. It was a dream, and it was great to see both sides of it. The development of the ADU Center, and now the implementation of it.”

Scott’s enthusiasm for the future of ADUs is palpable, as he acknowledges both their potential for creativity and their environmental benefits. “We don’t typically build small homes in the construction industry, so it’s an exciting kind of wild west,” he states. “There’s a lot of creativity you don’t see in the greater construction industry, people are still figuring out the best ways to build small houses.”

Scott highlights the environmental and social benefits of ADUs, “We can build more housing without having to build more infrastructure, lay down more streets, and pave more of our green spaces.” Beyond environmental considerations, Scott sees ADUs as an opportunity to create close-knit communities. He observes, “ADUs are the smallest unit of community that we have. We see it happen all the time from homeowners who find a renter they really like, and that develops a relationship that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.”

Since its inception, the Napa Sonoma ADU Center has conducted over 700 one-on-one consultations with homeowners, offering guidance on permitting, understanding local laws, and connecting with reliable vendors. The center has also issued 511 personalized ADU Feasibility Reports and maintains a registry of 50 vetted vendors in various sectors. A recent survey of the Center’s clients indicates that 76% are advancing with their plans to build an ADU, which could lead to as many as 375 new units in the North Bay, with approximately 75 already finished.

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