ADU Densification, A Solution to the California Housing Crisis

If you have looked for an apartment or home rental in a large city such as Los Angeles, you have probably run into the issue of having to either search for an undetermined amount of time to find a good place or look move the outskirts for something more within your price range. Fortunately through new legislation there might be a solution to this housing supply, via Accessory Dwelling units (ADUs)

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A series of laws will go into effect staring this coming year 2020, each law addressing the issues from multiple sides helping both renters in look for housing and developers looking to create homes. In this article we will be covering the key items that will help architects, designers, contractors and developers, in bringing new units into the market.

#1 J-ADU, Triple Density

One of the major updates by brought by Assembly Bill No. 68 is the ability to add a 3rd ADU to an existing single family home. Meaning, that single family homes that meet setback and access requirements will be allowed to add a standard ADU (unit #2) and a Junior ADU (unit #3). Given the relationship between low housing supply and rent cost, this is one of the primary features that can potentially stimulate the production of new housing.

#2 Void any Owner-Occupancy Requirement

If you have had the opportunity to design or build an ADU (for example small un-incorporated areas of Los Angeles), you might have encountered numerous additional requirements essentially de-incentivizing the project. Owner-Occupancy requirement has been one method such jurisdictions to hold off new development, in short it requires a property owner to live within the property where the ADU is located. This can discourage large non-local developers from going on a construction spree and changing the character of neighborhoods and stimulating development in an unwanted way.

Assembly Bill No. 13 can eliminates the Owner-Occupancy requirements, but it is possible that large developers don’t take advantage of this provision. This can potentially pave the way for smaller more community conscious developers and builders to strategicly triple the density of a neighborhood, a sensibility and insight that a large out-of-city developer might not have.

#3 Relaxing of Loca Planning Requirements

Assembly BIll No. 881 protects from local jurisdictions from creating more red tape in the form of strict setbacks, parking requirements, building separations. First, relaxing setback restrictions will allow creative architects and designers to find those hidden opportunities within a neighborhood and strategically locate housing in those areas. Second, relaxing parking requirements will be specifically helpful to ADU conversion projects which use existing garage structures. Previous garage conversions standards have required the home owner to provide additional parking on site when converting the garage into an ADU, this was specifically tough for tight lots previously planned without this car access in mind.

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What we know for sure is that these measures have passed and are due to come into effect early 2020. There are still a few uncertainties when it comes how building department life-safety requirements and Green Building Code requirements. These will definitely affect the speed of housing production. Meaning, repurposing of structures can always be a hurdle which will add time to conversion projects and extensive Green Building Requirements might discourage a home owner from building. It will be the responsibility of the architect/designer/builder to help home owners navigate these building requirements and create affordable development solutions. See a few links below for further reading and more in depth information.


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