Cities and states across the country are realizing the potential of legalized Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) as an inexpensive way to increase density and available housing units without drastically changing a neighborhood’s character. According to Kol Peterson, author of Backdoor Revolution: The Definitive Guide to ADU Development, “there has been a dramatic uptick in ADU regulatory relaxation over the last few years.” In a piece for the Washington Post, Haisten Willis assesses the benefits of ADU construction, which is experiencing a resurgence, particularly in high-cost, low-density neighborhoods on the West Coast.
California and Oregon have passed statewide legislation legalizing ADUs, and Chicago is implementing a pilot program to test the concept. Between 2016 and 2019, ADU permits in California jumped from 1,269 to 14,702, signaling a pent-up demand for “granny flats.” Los Angeles, which issued 80 ADU permits in 2016, issued 6,747 in 2019.
The ADU can be an ideal housing type for seniors who want to live near their family and provides an unobtrusive way to increase available units, but advocates admit that “the devil is in the details” and more oversight is required to ensure ADU landlords can navigate the process and maintain adequate living conditions. “It still doesn’t absolve the city from the protections they need to keep for renters,” says organizer Ebonée Green. Homeowners who want to build ADUs don’t always know how to manage contractors or get permits, and banks, unfamiliar with the construction type, have so far been reluctant to issue loans for ADU projects.
While the growth in ADU construction is encouraging, experts warn that legalizing ADUs is only “a small tool in the box,” not a broad solution to housing affordability issues.