Housing and Planning Committee examines barriers to ADU construction

The city’s housing and planning committee met on Tuesday to discuss the regulation of secondary suites, secondary housing located somewhere on residential land. Like Austin the housing crisis persists and the median selling price of homes continues to rise, DSUs can sometimes provide a more affordable housing option. But onerous local policies regulating ADUs can deter or prevent homeowners from building accessory units and limit who can reside in these spaces.

The average selling price of a home in Austin has risen sharply over the past decade, hitting around $ 550,000 this year, more than most locals can afford. The committee met with a common desire to rethink ADU regulations to make these units more accessible to average Austinites who might struggle to find housing options within their price range, and to offer more homeowners the option. earn passive income by renting out living spaces in their backyard.

This is not the first time that the city has looked at these policies. In 2020, the city council adopted A resolution aimed at making it easier for residents to build ADUs, and this summer the Housing and Urban Planning Department released answer at this resolution, describing other options for the city to explore. City staff noted that funding barriers still made it difficult for homeowners to build ADUs, despite the introduction of simplified permits, and that regulatory barriers continued to drive up ADU construction costs.

Greg Casar, chair of the housing and planning committee, began Tuesday’s meeting with the goal of researching “small places and small programs (that) can deliver big gains” for people in the market to build homes. second homes on their property. The meeting brought together speakers discussing alternative options and programs to make ADU construction more accessible.

Erik Preston, who represented Villa Homes, a California-based company that builds prefabricated ADUs at a lower cost than a wooden house, said in a sample of about 330 people surveyed, half of those interested in building d ‘an ADU on their Austin property. were disqualified on the sole basis of zoning, a statistic Council members seemed to find conflicting.

Prefabricated ADUs, Preston said, can be a simpler and more affordable option because they are built in accordance with federal regulations and often able to bypass local regulations. According to Preston, Villa Homes ADUs can cost less than $ 200,000 per unit, a sticker price of tens of thousands of dollars cheaper than their stick-built counterparts.

The meeting also brought together members of the local non-profit Community Powered Workshop, which offers assistance in creating ADUs as a secondary source of income for historically underserved communities. The program facilitated the construction of 18 “alley apartments,“a number they say is not representative of the interest expressed.

Qualities in the code exclude many, if not most, homeowners from building and leasing ADUs. While most of these nuances are difficult to apply, their existence alone has the potential to fend off rule-makers. Different types of units require different lot sizes, parking requirements, zoning districts or types of residents, Brent Lloyd of the city’s development services department Explain. For example, guesthouses have lax regulations, but should only be occupied by non-paying customers. “Accessory apartments” are units attached to the original housing structure, but can only be occupied by residents with disabilities or over the age of 60, and cannot be garage conversions. ADUs may be constructed to provide housing for on-site employees only if they are on land of at least 15,000 square feet and residents are employed in a project located on that same land.

Thomas Medina of Community Powered Workshop says these regulations can be barriers for people interested in their program. Often, he said, low-income households want to convert their garage to ADU, which lowers construction costs, but their zoning does not allow for a garage conversion. He also said that sometimes the development process is just too confusing and cumbersome for owners to persevere.

The committee will take a closer look at the obstacles outlined on Tuesday in a bid to pave the way for an easier development process. Board member Kathie Tovo, who is not on the Housing and Planning Committee, announcement that his team drafted a resolution that includes options to make an investment in ADUs more financially accessible, including financial incentives and pre-approved architect plans. These proposals will be heard at an upcoming municipal council.

Photo made available via a Creative Commons license.

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