Accessory Dwelling Unit fair offers housing options

ADU's may alleviate housing demand and aging woes


The cities of Arcata, Eureka, and the county of Humboldt sponsored the Accessory Dwelling Unit Fair at Redwood Acres this weekend. According to the California Department of Housing and Community Development’s website, “Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) are known by many names: granny flats, in-law units, backyard cottages, secondary units and more.” The two day fair which spanned from Friday to Saturday was arranged to educate the public about the process permitting, financing, designing, planning and building ADUs, according to a flyer for the fair.

Denting the demand for housing

Representatives from US bank, Barry Smith Construction, Area 1 Agency on Aging, the city of Eureka, the city of Arcata, and the County of Humboldt among other organizations lined the walls, ready to answer ADU inquiries.

Eureka City Associate Planner Brian Heaton said the demand for housing is changing.

“There’s a large demand for couples who don’t have kids, or college graduates who don’t want roommates,” he said. “Accessory dwelling units create housing that tends to be more affordable such as studios or one bedroom units.”

ADUs promote ‘gentle density,’ Heaton said, which is a way for cities to increase population density without drastically changing their appearance. “ADUs allow cities to add hundreds of new units without disturbing the look of the city,” he said. “You don’t need new infrastructure like new roads or sewer pipes.”

Generally speaking, Heaton said, anyone in California with a single home and their own lot can build an ADU. Yard space isn’t necessary, as internal conversions [modification of the existing home] can be done, according to Heaton. Most of the interest Heaton has seen involves garage conversions, followed by above garage units. Garage conversions, Heaton said, are the least expensive version of an ADU, ranging from a total cost of $20,000 to $50,000. Building an ADU from scratch, Heaton said, costs about $180 to $200 per square foot.

Growing old where you grew up

In addition to chipping away at the demand for housing, ADUs enable aging residents to “age in place,” according to Suzanne Smith, Executive Assistant at Area 1 Agency on Aging. As property owners age, they may find themselves with homes that are too large for their needs. Instead of selling their property, the concept of aging in place means finding a way to grow old where you grew up. Building an ADU of manageable size for a senior is one way to promote aging in place, according to Smith. It’s basically a smaller ‘home at home’ which makes the main house available for other family members or prospective renters.

“You get to stay home and it’s less expensive [than assisted living],” Smith said.

Blue Lake resident Barbara Keating said that if money wasn’t an object she’d build an ADU on her property in a heartbeat. Keating saw the reality of assisted living firsthand in the late 90’s when her mother was paying about $5,000 per month for assisted living.

“An ADU would open the possibility for me to age in place,” she said. “It’s my home, I’ve lived there for 22 years, the trees growing are the ones I planted.”

Keating, who toted a a folder packed with pamphlets and info sheets from the fair, said the fair offered a great foundation to move forward with exploring the option of an ADU on her property. “It’s been very helpful,” she said. “I think they should continue doing this every year.”

Philip Santos can be reached at 707-441-0506

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