A one-stop source about accessory dwelling units, multigenerational homes, laneway houses, ADUs, granny flats, in-law units…
Shawn Busse bought a 950 square foot ranch house on a long, skinny lot with the intention of building an accessory dwelling unit behind it. His plan was to live in the ADU and rent out the front house. He has managed to fulfill that goal, but it has been a challenging process. He agreed to share his story here so that others can benefit from what he has learned along the way.
There are a few home and garage-based businesses in Shawn’s neighborhood, and Shawn started his business in his own home, so he understood first-hand the benefits of well-designed live-work space. The fixed cost of leasing commercial space can be fatal for a small business, especially in tough financial times. When people are short on capital, live-work spaces provide opportunities for creative businesses such as graphic design, small-scale fabrication, and architecture to get off the ground or to downsize gracefully. Shawn recognized that a live-work space like his could be an asset to primarily residential neighborhoods.In 2007 Shawn started designing his accessory dwelling, or rather two of them, one upstairs and one downstairs. Shawn’s thoughtful design allowed him to work with a footprint of just 1000 square feet. The lower floor (1000 sq ft) was designed as a workspace and the upper floor (720 sq ft) as a living space. As Shawn explains, two people can live comfortably in less than 800 square feet as long as efficient design creates a sense of spaciousness.
Unfortunately, neighbors, banks, and appraisers were wary of such innovation. A design that differed from the typical single-family home raised eyebrows – and costs. A design review, which included neighbor input, required Shawn to modify his design, sacrificing some functionality. At the time the fee structure did not provide breaks for accessory dwelling units, so Shawn paid over $17,000 in fees and permits, approximately 10% of his construction costs.
Meanwhile, the banking industry collapsed partway through the project and his financing was pulled. While this was incredibly frustrating, Shawn managed to complete the project with private financing from friends who recognized its value. Speaking of value, Shawn’s ADU confused appraisers as much as loan officers. After it was constructed the ADU’s appraised value jumped more than $100,000. Shawn explains that since the single family home is standard, designers and builders are penalized for innovating and combining strategies. The only way to be rewarded is for those who have capital to build new models and prove that they can work.
Shawn’s ADU works. It features a tight building envelope with advanced framing, creating a comfortable interior environment. Efficient appliances and mechanical systems keep utility bills as low as possible. The live-work space provides flexibility. The property, which once supported only 2-3 residents can now easily house 5 or even 6. Shawn sees the benefits of small, efficient buildings as cumulative. They use fewer materials to build and less energy to maintain. They are easier to locate near other housing and on infill lots, reducing housing shortages. Additionally, they provide opportunities to integrate workspace into a residential area that lacks a commercial core. Shawn says, “That’s what’s exciting to me… generating an economic engine in a neighborhood.” Shawn would like to see more live-work ADUs built in Portland. As a result of his experiences, Shawn helped to get the fees for accessory dwellings waived until 2013. He hopes enough people will take advantage of the fee waiver to build ADUs before it expires that his pioneering efforts will have a lasting impact.