It’s no secret that the nation is in the midst of a housing crisis. Rent and the price of a home are rising, creating a problem not just for the most vulnerable people, like the chronically homeless, but also for the average worker, the middle-income earners who are finding themselves priced out of the market.
Industry leaders from big cities to small towns are talking about what we as a country can do to make housing more affordable for households that make 60 to 140 percent of the area median income.
Here at Modern-Shed, we don’t purport to have all of the answers, but one thing we’ve taken notice of is the onerous obstacles that prevent property owners from building rental housing that could alleviate some of the problem.
“In some places in Washington state, you can’t find anywhere to live where the rent isn’t astronomically high,” says Modern-Shed general manager Tim Vack. “Often, it’s the zoning laws of the county. If we could change the zoning to allow accessory dwelling units (ADUs) on a property, more residents could build a rental unit on their property.”
Zoning restrictions, such as not allowing more than one unit on 5 or 10 acres in rural areas or not allowing more than one unit on a city lot, and other barriers, such as a long and expensive permitting process, exacerbate the housing crunch.
Portland took one step last year to make dwelling units more accessible, by removing astronomical development fees that stopped homeowners from building these types of units in a city that’s already strapped for housing.
California, one of the states hit the hardest by the housing crisis, passed a law in 2016 to make ADUs easier to build, and local jurisdictions have followed suit, though challenges still present themselves, often in the form of delays at local building departments.
“Silly laws don’t help anything,” Vack says. “If I own 10 acres, why can’t I put what I want on it? If we can build an ADU and a city makes them legal and feasible for us to do, then the workforce housing problem will be over. The solution is very simple.”
A single person living in Seattle, for instance, who has a car payments and health insurance, shouldn’t have to worry about spending more than $3,000 on rent.
“Renting out an ADU brings in income for the homeowner and it’s neighbors helping neighbors,” Vack says. “We have one shed in California that took over a year to get a building permit. It should not take so long. It should not be a rigamarole thing to jump through hoops to get these built.”