How accessory dwelling units, set to expand on the West Coast, present a small but mighty solution to affordability
For cities starved of new housing, staring down an affordability crisis, and desperate for density, the opportunity to inexpensively add housing units seems to good to be true. But that’s the promise made by proponents of accessory dwelling units, or ADUs: small structures, typically totaling under 1,000 square feet, built on the property of existing homeowners.
“There’s lots of free land out there,” says Ira Belgrade, who has become an advocate and consultant for ADU construction in Los Angeles and runs the site YimbyLA. “And it’s in people’s backyards. But people have this mindset of ‘not in my backyard, or my neighbor’s backyard, or even my block.’”
One of the few housing types that’s primarily completed and developed by amateurs—and, until recently, often constructed off the books—ADUs, small backyard housing units also known as granny flats, have seen a recent boom. The affordable housing shortage has spurred increased advocacy for ADUs, especially in California, where detached single-family homes make up 56.4 percent of the overall housing stock. Recent legislation in the state created a sharp rise in their construction. In Los Angeles, the number of applications for ADU construction rose from 80 in 2016 to 1,980 through November 1, 2017.
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