a one-stop source about multigenerational homes, ADU's, granny flats, backyard cottages, in-law units, accessory dwelling units…
From Washington DC to Vancouver BC to Boston, MA, there are more and more examples in the media of individuals attempting to build and live in smaller dwellings and in more flexible living arrangements. Passive income, multi-generational housing, and other cooperative housing models are the common homeowner motivations for developing these kinds of housing options.
Where ADUs are permitted, they provide a viable mechanism to allow for this kind of smaller, flexible housing arrangement.
While some cities promote ADUs, most don’t. And many cities may claim to allow ADUs, but only under prohibitive zoning preconditions. Here are the common preconditions:
And once a homeowner overcomes the labyrinth of their municipal zoning codes, they must address building codes, which are more onerous in smaller, secondary dwellings than they are for larger primary residences. These regulatory factors all slow the rate of permitted ADU construction that would otherwise exist in their absence.
Meanwhile, there are many examples of non-permitted, smaller, secondary housing options in cities all over the country. This ‘gray market’ is a testament to the demand for these smaller, flexible housing options. Unfortunately, the non-permitted ADU housing stock can also stain communities’ notions of whether ADUs are ‘good for their neighborhood’. Their idea of an ADU may be run down, unmaintained, sub-par non-permitted housing forms that they’ve seen with their own eyes. They haven’t actually seen permitted ADUs before because, well, there aren’t any to see.
This false perception of ADUs as poor, run-down construction is particularly ironic because permitted ADUs are typically constructed to a higher standard since they must adhere to newer and stricter building codes than their respective (older) main houses.
Over the last six months, Sightline’s Alan Durning has been authoring a wonderful series about the inanity of various forms of overregulated housing forms. Three of the last posts deal explicitly with ADUs: the hidden density that they can provide, how relatively rare permitted ADUs are, and the planning and zoning regulations that prevent more rapid ADU construction. We encourage readers to read these articles:
These articles expand upon the onerous zoning regulations that often apply to ADUs and help explain why permitted ADUs are so rare.
We know there is an unsatiated demand for smaller dwellings, a demand that correlates with our changing home demographics as shown above. I look forward to seeing how this gray market will turn into a more viable market as more and more forward-thinking cities start to adopt permitted ADU construction as an explicit policy goal.