We just had the chance to participate in an amazing roundtable discussing ADU policy in Washington, DC hosted by AARP. Why is AARP bringing people to DC to talk about ADUs? AARP has spent a solid 20 plus years advocating for housing choice as an important way for people to age in place in their communities, and realizes that ADU play a really important role in providing this choice. Their website has a wealth of resources for folks interested in learning more.
What do we mean by housing choice? We mean that neighborhoods that have zoning that only allows detached single family homes on individual lots greatly limits the size and type of housing that can be provided in a community. These places (typically unintentionally) often become economically exclusionary because there is no feasible way to build a small house on a large lot. Existing lots typically have existing houses on them, and usually of a generally standard size, which tends to be above of 2,000 SF if built in the last 30 years. Many folks love their community, but often need a lot less house, particularly if it is just for themselves. Many cities around the country recognize the problem, but they struggle to articulate an effective argument to convince their citizens to change their zoning to accommodate more housing choice.
Talk of changing zoning tends to invoke amazing amounts of fear in peoples’ minds because their imagination can go to the darkest corners of their subconscious, dreaming up the scariest potential outcomes of what might, possibly happen somewhere at some point. ADUs can and should play an important role in these efforts. We like to describe ADUs as the teddy bears of housing choice. They are small, cute, and cuddly. On the other hand, planners using a term like “duplex” conjures fear of witches and demons moving into your community to steal your children. Adding an ADU or having a duplex both allow for two dwellings on a single lot, providing critical housing flexibility, but teddy bears are loved much more than witches and demons.
Image Source: AARP Making Room Exhibit at the National Building Musuem