The Potential of ADUs
California legislation had slowly been eliminating the hurdles to developing these structures, but on January 1st, 2020 the State issued legislation that removed almost all of the barriers. It eliminated some land use and zoning restrictions, removed lot size and parking requirements in most cases, and limited setbacks to four feet maximum. Municipalities scrambled to adjust their local ordinances, and builders had to learn new techniques and codes.
What is particularly interesting about ADUs is their potential to help address the multiple crises we face in the Bay Area. Climate change is creating extreme weather patterns, reducing rain and snowfall and increasing the severity of wildfires. Social injustice and inequity have increased dramatically. And to top it all off, we have a significant housing shortage. The built environment plays an important role in, and is impacted by, all of these crises. Given what is at stake for our communities and our planet, we believe we need to work creatively and collectively to make real, long-term, effective change for the health, wellness, and vitality of individuals, communities and bioregions. ADUs are a great place to begin this work and think differently about how we design and build homes, given their smaller footprint that allows them to be built in areas that have existing services, encourage sustainable forms of transport and use less resources while being accessible to more people because of their smaller size.
With the rising cost of homeownership, especially in California, ADUs offer a path to wealth-building and gracefully aging in place. For existing homeowners, ADUs can be built as an additional unit to rent out, or provide flexible space as more people are working from home or caring for elderly and children. There are new ownership models, available through organizations like OBY Cooperative, that allow homeowners to rent their backyards to cooperatives so they can collect extra income, without the upfront cost and responsibility of building and renting an ADU. And there are new investment opportunities, offered through platforms like Small Change, that allow for non-traditional real estate projects to get financed through crowd-funding, now open to many who have been traditionally excluded from real estate investing and wealth-building opportunities.
California is still very much in the early stages of realizing the potential of these building types. Build It Green (see details below) brought together people from across the ADU ecosystem — builders, architects, city officials, data analysts, financial officers, and the people that live in, own, and rent ADUs — to explore these ideas. Tune in to discover how we might transform our communities, and larger building culture, from this foundation in Build It Green’s Potential of ADUs Series.
This article was originally posted on Berkeley Built, a local publication promoting design for sustainable living.