Granny Flats Face Zoning and Cost Barriers

Securing affordable housing continues to be a challenge for young adults launching careers and families, and for older persons who live on a modest retirement income. Loved ones of older adults have been using their creativity to meet the challenge, and across the U.S. and Canada more backyard “granny flats” or Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) are cropping up – but not every community is thrilled by the trend. 

According to a recent New York Time Health report, a growing number of seniors are establishing small independent households on the property or connected to the main home of their grown children.  Whether a garage space converted into a studio apartment or a prefabricated outbuilding, the arrangement allows for privacy and independence with mutual support, social interaction and convenience.  Affordability is also a driving factor as rental and retirement community fees skyrocket. 

Most ADUs are about 600-1000 square feet in size, with a bathroom, a kitchen or kitchenette, and a separate entrance.  As circumstances change, the space has the potential of becoming a rental unit that generates income, or a place for young adults to land between jobs or after college.  

Family caregivers for elderly parents are often sandwiched between work, raising children, and providing care for their aging loved ones.  Having everyone in close proximity, but with some separation, is an arrangement that can ease stress and anxiety, and offer a better quality of life for seniors.  Studies have also shown that children benefit from living nearby or with older relatives. 

Many communities are embracing ADUs that add housing capacity, without demanding a significant infrastructure investment, by adopting or revising laws that reduce barriers to ADU construction like zoning or parking restrictions.  However, many neighbourhoods still permit only single-family homes, and the cost of building or renovating an existing space can be daunting.  Lenders, manufacturers and property tax administrations will need to work with proponents of ADUs to make them an affordable option for homeowners with lower incomes. 

Interested in learning more?  Follow this link to the Shelterforce website to register for a webinar that addresses building a tenant activist bridge, and for information about building more ADUs and keeping them affordable. For a Canadian guide on ADUs principles and best practices, funded by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, click here