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Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) are indeed considered by many urban planners and experts as a hidden key to solving urban density issues. ADUs, also known as granny flats, in-law suites, or backyard cottages, are secondary housing units on residential properties that are separate from the main dwelling. They can take various forms, including converted garages, standalone cottages, or additions to existing structures.

Urban areas tend to be dense for a variety of reasons and ADUS can help in solving urban density issues in a variety of ways. Here are some common reasons why urban areas tend to be dense and how ADUs can help with the current situation.

Economic Opportunities

Cities often serve as economic hubs, providing a concentration of job opportunities, businesses, and services. This attracts people from rural areas and smaller towns in search of employment and economic advancement. However, with the high cost of urban living, much of the transplants income goes into just surviving. According to an article from April 2023 in USA Today, “Over the past two years, the U.S. median rent rose by 18%. That was mostly because a competitive housing market and higher mortgage rates shut many people out of home buying. A strong jobs market and shortage of inventory also contributed to rising rent.” This holds even more true in urban areas where demand certainly exceeds supply.

Cultural and Social Activities

Cities are often centers of cultural and social activities, offering a diverse range of entertainment, dining, and recreational options. This cultural vibrancy can be a significant draw for people seeking a dynamic and engaging lifestyle.

In many cultures, multifamily living is the norm and taking care of the older generations is expected. An ADU is a great place for aging parents to reside when they are still independent enough to care for their daily needs but may need to downsize for financial stability or may need additional care as a precaution. Or perhaps the aging parents can live in the main house and the children or a caretaker can reside in the ADU. Purchasing an additional home on the same block or even city may not be feasible, but adding an ADU could be.

Access to Markets

Businesses, particularly those in finance, trade, and technology, often choose urban locations for easier access to markets, clients, and partners. Proximity to other businesses can lead to collaboration and innovation.

Land Use Policies

Zoning and land use policies in some urban areas may encourage higher-density development. This can be driven by a desire to optimize land use, promote mixed-use developments, and create more sustainable, walkable neighborhoods.

The State of California has loosened many previous policies when it comes to adding an ADU to a property. For example, there is no designated set distance between an ADU and an existing structure and there are no height restrictions for an ADU according to the ADU handbook published by the California Department of Housing and Community Development. (However, these laws and regulations are also impacted by location and are subject to change, so be sure to discuss these issues with your ADU company.)

Housing Demand

In cities with high demand for housing, limited available land, or strict development regulations, there is often pressure to build vertically or increase housing density to accommodate the population. California has also recognized the necessity of solving urban density issues by creating new allowances for ADUs. In 2023, the state government stated that in 2024 ADUs can now be sold separately from the main house (AB 587) and the property does not have to be owner occupied (Gov. Code, § 65852.2, subd. (a)(6).). Furthermore, “AB 671 requires local agencies’ housing elements to include a plan that incentivizes and promotes the creation of ADUs that can offer affordable rents for very low-, low-, or moderate-income households and requires HCD to develop a list of state grants and financial incentives in connection with the planning, construction, and operation of affordable ADUs.” 

Job Proximity

High-density areas often result from the desire for people to live close to their workplaces, reducing commuting times and increasing overall efficiency. Better yet, ADUs are key to solving urban density issues by promoting home offices. Reduced traffic, reduced energy, and reduced  vehicle emissions all support a healthier urban environment.

Here are several other ways in which ADUs contribute to solving urban density challenges:

1. Increased Housing Stock: ADUs provide an opportunity to increase the overall housing supply within existing urban areas without the need for large-scale development. This is especially important in cities facing housing shortages and rising demand.

2. Affordability: ADUs can offer a more affordable housing option for renters or homeowners looking for smaller, more cost-effective living spaces. This can be particularly beneficial in high-cost urban areas where traditional housing options may be financially out of reach for many individuals. Did you know that the average home in California in 2024 is estimated at $860,000?!? An ADU can start at just $250,000. Now if you live in an urban area such as San Jose or San Francisco, you know that home prices are MUCH higher. However, the ADU price is virtually the same no matter what city you live in (for the structure itself not including transportation or additional building costs based on each unique project). 

3. Sustainable Urban Development: By utilizing existing infrastructure and underutilized spaces, ADUs are key to solving urban density issues. They reduce the need for sprawling development into greenfield areas and promote infill development, making better use of existing resources.

6. Flexibility for Homeowners: ADUs provide homeowners with the flexibility to adapt their properties to changing needs. They can be used for additional rental income, as a home office, or to accommodate extended family members.

7. Improved Land Utilization: ADUs are critical in solving urban density issues by optimizing land use by making efficient use of available space in established urban areas. This can be particularly important in densely populated cities where every square foot of land is valuable.

Are you thinking about adding an ADU to your property? Call ADU Warehouse today! We’re happy to answer any questions you may have! 

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