As incomes continue to stagnate the cost of housing continues to rise, lower and middle class people are finding themselves either losing more of their incomes or being forced into slums. For lower and middle class Americans this has become an affordable housing crisis.
There are many factors to the loss of affordable housing, but a large one is the difficulty of building new housing. As new units go on the market Government built housing is generally built clustered due to cost restrictions, which and creates slums. Meanwhile, private sector developments are far too expensive for low income renters, and take many decades to drop to an affordable price.
Many cities have allowed homeowners to rent portions of their homes, such as a garage or granny flat, on the private market. This immediately opens more housing in neighborhoods at an affordable rate. Known as accessory dwelling units, granny flats, in-law apartments, and numerous other names, these units allow increased density in existing neighborhoods and allow those looking to leave slums an affordable option to do so.
In addition, accessory dwelling units tend to support local homeowners as opposed to out of town developers, keeping wealth in the community. It also tends to accumulate in highly desirable neighborhoods near urban centers, which are closer to employment options, public transportation, and shopping, lowering commute times and transportation costs.
Video: How building an ADU saved one family 90k while caring for their aging mother
Research on accessory dwelling units is small. However, studies have foundthat secondary units are 35 percent cheaper than comparable apartments. While, on its face, this seems promising, studies have also found that this may be more due to the informal arrangements these units are generally worked within. Because these houses are very intimate to the homeowners, friends and family tend to be rented to instead of in a traditional open market format. This limits poor and working class residents from using it, and finds that african american’s tend to not gain much at all from the sudden dearth of affordable housing units in middle class neighborhoods.
However, this is a low cost, common sense approach to a problem that invariably lowers the cost of housing and strengthens neighborhoods, and should be a priority for affordable housing advocates.
Allowing these units will destroy the character of our neighborhoods, allowing renters, the poor, students, and other undesirables to come into our neighborhoods making our families less safe. It will limit parking, create more noise, and lower the property values of every house around it.
Accessory units are a common sense way to support people in our neighborhood with little to no harm to any of our neighbors. Accessory units have strict regulations that ensure tenants don’t clog the streets, harm housing prices, or disrupt the lives of their neighbors. They are a great way for young professionals and working class residents to enjoy living in our neighborhoods.
How To Pass It
City and county zoning ordinances are what determine whether neighborhoods allow for accessory units. These should go through your planning board or city commission to be passed. They will then need to decide how this will best by reviewing a few steps along the way:
Is a public forum needed to include an accessory unit on your property?
What permitting process will they need to go through?
What size unit can be allowed on the property?
What aesthetics should be included to not harm the character of the neighborhood?
What should the parking requirement be for the unit?
What types of units should be allowed or not?
Should the city conduct regular monitoring?
The more of these limitations there are the harder it is to build this housing, but it makes it politically feasible to pass in neighborhoods by having these and does protect the integrity of the neighborhoods.
What you can do
The first step is to find if your city allowed accessory units and where. If they do, discuss the limitations on these units. Many cities allow accessory units but put so many barriers to their creation the policy is near meaningless. Decide if your goal is to begin an accessory dwelling unit policy in certain neighborhoods or to relax the current onerous regulations that exist on them.
If your city has no policy on the books we recommend not swinging for the rafters the first time out. Changes to neighborhoods cause a lot of fear among residents that might spook them to call their elected officials and kill the measure before it gets off the ground. Start with a more conservative dwelling unit policy and expand from there once neighborhoods see how painless these additions are to their neighborhoods.
Find allies that can bring this discussion to the city or county board. Homeless advocates, affordable housing advocates, labor unions, and other social justice organizations are a great place to start. Many groups begin by pressing the city to fund an outside consultant to look into their accessory dwelling unit policies and make recommendations for improvement. This allows an easy first step to get your policy started, and the recommendation from a noted expert allows the adoption of a better ADU policy more politically feasible.
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