Are Granny Flats The New Tiny House?

published Jan 18, 2018
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(Image credit: Esteban Cortez)

With many major cities facing an affordable housing crisis, alternative modes of living have been on the rise. From tiny houses, to van life, to shipping container homes, we’ve seen a host of stories about the creative spaces folks are outfitting in order to live within their means. And while these alternative spaces work for many, there are drawbacks, usually in the form of permits and impermanence. A recent article on City Lab looks at ADUs, accessory dwelling units, as a growing—and potentially important—source of affordable housing.

ADUs can be basement or attic apartments, granny or mother-in-law flats, and units built onto garages. Basically, a living structure that shares the same space and lot as the primary structure, as a stand alone or an add on. They increase the housing stock without drastically changing the footprint of the city. ADUs offer people the ability to stay put in neighborhoods they know and love; owners can design their ADU with aging in mind and people who are downsizing can rent out the main property while living in the ADU.

The main barrier? Not all cities are supportive of the zoning laws required to build ADUs.

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Kol Peterson, author of Backdoor Revolution: The Definitive Guide to ADU Development, told CityLab he thinks we will see a significant rise in ADUs in years to come.

ADUs use fewer resources like gas and electricity due to their size, and because they’re often built in walkable and bikeable areas, their residents generate less of an environmental impact that way as well. They also reduce the per capita residential footprint. This is important because there are a lot of one- and two-person households in cities, but not the housing to match that demographic….And ADUs generally don’t have a significant infrastructural impact on a city, in contrast to, say, a 400-unit apartment building. They bring more housing to an area organically.

When cities do relax their zoning laws, they have seen a pretty significant increase in ADUs. According to CityLab, L.A. went from having 142 ADU permits issued in 2016 to roughly 2,000 in 2017 after the state of California relaxed their ADU codes.

As cities become more crowded and housing costs skyrocket, responsible and livable alternatives to traditional housing will only become more and more valuable.

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