Accessory Dwelling Units, or ADUs, offer a unique and innovative housing alternative that could help thousands of people in the San Francisco Bay Area find attractive and affordable places to live. The high cost of housing in the Bay Area is comprised of two components: the cost of the house itself, and the cost of the land on which the house is built. So, what if you could build a comparatively small yet charming and comfortable home on the land of a friend or family member? The smaller size of the home would vastly reduce the cost of construction, and since you'd not be purchasing land, the home would be significantly more affordable. This scenario is exactly why accessory dwelling units are quickly growing in popularity, and cities are adapting their building codes to encourage the development of more ADUs.
What Are Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs)?
ADUs are also known by less technical names such as “granny flats” or “mother-in-law apartments.” Many municipal and regional building codes allow for accessory dwelling units as an added property space to house visitors or caretakers. Due to the aging baby boomer population, many cities are making it increasingly easy for people to add ADUs onto their property as a way to house elderly caretakers, hospice workers, and other senior care workers.
These accessory dwelling units increase the occupancy space of a given piece of property, and allow people to construct housing that is usually smaller in square footage than what is generally required by municipal building codes. While many ADUs are built as an addition onto the top of a garage or other space connected to the main home, ADUs can also be free standing structures that essentially act as another “mini-home” on a piece of property.
Some Benefits of ADUs
There are numerous benefits associated with ADUs, both for people looking for affordable housing alternatives and for homeowners (and landowners) who are looking for ways to improve their income.
- Multi-family dwellings are considered essential to keep housing prices in urban areas affordable and also to limit urban sprawl.
- While these types of alternatives are usually connected with apartment complexes and high-rise condos, allowing landowners to place more than one livable structure on the urban lot that they own is another way to increase lower housing prices while increasing urban density.
- Because there are usually strict limits on the square footage of ADUs (generally below 1,000 square feet), these smaller homes also reduce the carbon footprint that is connected to the construction industry. A recent report by the United States Green Building Council finds that over 39% of carbon emissions in the US are linked to the new construction of residential and commercial buildings. Simply put, the smaller the house, the less emissions it will take to build and inhabit the house.
- Younger people looking to become first time homeowners could potentially purchase an urban lot together with another family or individual and co-own the property while each building their own home (one of which would be the ADU). This would allow the two families or individuals to share the cost of land and thus drastically reduce the price of the home.
- Since ADUs are usually built on the land of friends of family members, this also allows for the creation of communal living spaces, thus increasing the potential for building a deeper sense of community with physical neighbors.
- Furthermore, ADUs can also be rented out thus providing a source of income for senior homeowners who may be struggling to keep their home, or for younger homeowners who need help making mortgage payments.
The Legal Status of ADUs in California
Starting on January 1st of 2019, new laws went into effect across the state of California related to the legality of ADUs. The two laws that affect the development of ADUs on pieces of property with a home clarify and improve various provisions of the law to promote the development of ADUs.
Concretely, these laws allow ADUs to be built concurrently with a single-family home, thus increasing the areas where ADUs can be built to include all zones and districts where single-family homes are already being built. The laws also reduced parking requirements to make it easier for several families to inhabit homes built on one piece of property.
These new laws led to a skyrocketing of applications across California for ADUs, thus showing that the legality of these housing alternatives could fundamentally change the housing market in the state.
Despite the favorable legal climate for ADUs, however, there are still several challenges ahead. For example, in order for ADUs to be accepted by homeowners associations in upscale neighborhoods, ADUs will need to be styled so that they aesthetically fit in with the craftsman style homes that characterize these areas. Many homeowners might rightfully be worried that shoddily built ADUs taking over an area could negatively affect the equity built up in their homes and properties. However, if the development of ADUs follows the aesthetic standards of the neighborhood, they should be welcomed.
Lastly, it remains to be seen whether or not ADUs can be built as tiny homes. If building codes and zoning requirements would allow for tiny homes to be classified as ADUs, this might open up a whole new area of affordable housing for people around California, especially in the San Francisco area.
Who is Building ADUs in the Bay Area?
Though the new favorable laws regulating ADUs in California are fairly recent, there are several building companies around the Bay Area who have experience building and designing ADUs. Below, are three ADU building companies that can help you find ways to get into the expanding world of ADUs as a housing alternative.
BluHomes: If you want an upscale and beautiful ADU on your land, this company offers several different models of ADUs that are both beautiful and practical while staying within the square footage limits. Their Cabana model, for example, is a one bedroom, one bath home that is just over 600 square feet, and starts at under $200,000 dollars.
Steel Core Builders: This company has a wealth of experience in all different types of construction, but due to the recent craze for ADUs, they have included accessory development units as part of their portfolio.
ADU Builder, Inc.: Lastly, in the San Francisco area, ADU Builder, Inc. is a leading company in the design and construction of quality ADUs. This company based out of Palo Alto offers free quotes for people interested in putting an ADU on their property.
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