BERKELEY (KPIX 5) — The high cost of housing in the Bay Area is splitting families apart as young people find they can’t afford to live in their own hometowns. But some are finding that a solution is not far away.
Tara and Michael Wolf love touring the new home they’re building for their son, so that he can live close to them. In fact, it’s in the backyard of their Oakland home.
“So, he has a whole house now for less than the payment he’d pay rent,” said Tara. “And it’s on our property and it’s increasing our property value, not someone else’s.”
Officially, it’s called an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU), or what used to be called a mother-in-law house. Demand for the backyard structures is skyrocketing, and it makes sense–add a small unit to an existing property, and you’ve sidestepped the housing crisis.
“You know, we put a small structure here and I could live in it? It seems like a very straight forward project,” said Kevin Mond of HDR Remodeling, a Berkeley firm building a number of ADU’s.
“But once you get into it, there’s a lot of really large obstacles and hurdles you have to get through.”
One of the biggest hurdles is the neighbors. In most communities, residents have a right to appeal a planning application, which can stall a project for months or even years, adding cost and discouraging construction altogether.
It’s frustrating for builder Dan McDunn. “The bureaucratic process for getting an entitlement to build is a mess,” he said.
In 2017, in order to encourage more housing, the legislature granted ADU’s an exemption from that.
Now, McDunn says that with neighbors no longer being able to block projects, it’s made such a big difference that he won’t build anything but ADU’s. In fact, he believes if you could cut out the delays caused by the neighborhood review process, it would end the housing crisis in a matter of a few years.
“So, the neighbors that are also complaining about high housing prices are basically responsible for contributing to high housing prices by continuously appealing projects that would otherwise satisfy demands,” he said.
“It could not be a worse situation.”