The Broad Base of ADU Boosters

Who wants to talk about granny flats some more?! By now, I hope you’ve read Bill Lindeke’s post on the subject, Max Musicant’s post on how it relates to preservation, and Alex Cecchini’s ideas on how to improve the draft ordinance. Most of Alex’s suggestions were incorporated into the new and improved draft ordinance, which is contained in the staff report. If you haven’t read the 82-page PDF on ADUs yet, you’re forgiven. The report was prepared by planners from the Minneapolis Community Planning and Economic Development (CPED) department for the City Planning Commission, who will be considering the issue this Monday, November 10, around 5:00 pm. Here’s the report’s big takeaway: A lot of people like the idea of legalizing backyard cottages and attic apartments for many different reasons.

More like AD-cUte.

More like AD-cUte.

The main reason I support this ordinance is because I think it would remove a barrier to housing equity in our city. Currently, our zoning laws render vast swaths of the city uninhabitable for people who can’t afford to buy a house. I think that’s unfair. Legalizing accessory dwelling units would let people rent small living spaces in these great residential neighborhoods.

But there are many other reasons, besides fairness in housing, to support this ordinance. If you care about the welfare of older residents, you might support ADUs for the same reasons that the City’s Senior Citizens Advisory Committee supports them: because “ADUs would provide much-needed housing options for older persons in Minneapolis.” AARP Minnesota offers some statistics and analysis to further demonstrate the point:

“AARP surveys show that nearly 90% of the 50+ population want to stay in their homes and communities as they age, where they have strong social networks and a sense of familiarity. We know that a majority of Americans prefer walkable neighborhoods that offer a mix of housing and transportation options and close proximity to jobs, schools, shopping, entertainment, and parks. This along with the aging of the U.S. population and ongoing declines in the share of households with children will continue to boost the demand for smaller homes in more compact neighborhoods.”

An ADU not destroying a neighborhood.

An ADU not destroying a neighborhood.

This line of reasoning dovetails with the smart growth rationale for ADUs, which was laid out by Transit for Livable Communities in their letter of support for the ordinance: “ADUs will add to neighborhood and city vitality by increasing the number of people with access by walking and bicycling to retail, service, and other destinations.”

Sometimes there’s tension between the goals of having a denser, walkable city with ample housing options on the one hand, and preserving older detached homes in urban neighborhoods on the other. In this case, the goals are in concert. The Preservation Alliance of Minnesota wrote a letter in support of the ordinance, and it echoed the points in Max Musicant’s blog post, that ADUs could “make preservation more economically viable. A family could offer a separate living space to relatives, seniors could house an on-site caregiver, or homeowners could simply earn extra rental income. With these additional options, preserving an old home in an established neighborhood could seem more attractive than disinvestment and demolition/new construction.”

The organizational support for ADUs is strong, but some of the personal  comments are even more persuasive. Here’s a small sample (the staff report contains 26 pages of survey comments):

  • “I would like my mom to live closer to me, but not in my house. I would like a detached ADU.”
  • “Offers options for people to stay in the city. LOVE the IDEA!”
  • “As a single mom this would provide an excellent option for housing.”
  • “My adult son is disabled and I currently provide PCA care for him. I’m currently age 50. ADUs could provide many benefits to us and allow me to age in place while meeting his changing care needs over time.”
  • “I have a roomy basement that would make a great ADU.”
  • “I seek rental income & to house my parents eventually.”
  • “I am an architect trying to get a Green Homes North project done as an ADU. I feel it is extremely important to allow the attached versions in sharing space, accessibility, etc.”
  • “My husband’s aging mother wants her independence and we want to be close.”
  • “We live in a big home — children have left. We’d like to rent out space.”
  • “I’m worried I won’t be able to live in my unit with stairs when I get old.”

Some of these comments are mundane. Our lives are filled with mundane details. This amendment is a wise, incremental change that will provide solutions to mundane problems, and ultimately make it easier to live in the city. If you support ADUs, I urge you to let your council member know, and to attend the City Planning Commission meeting this Monday, November 10 at city hall. The meeting starts at 4:30, but the commission probably won’t start discussing the proposed ordinance until after 5:00.

Scott Shaffer

About Scott Shaffer

Scott Shaffer works for a nonprofit community development corporation in Minneapolis. He has a master's degree in urban and regional planning from the University of Minnesota. He and his wife live in the Powderhorn Park neighborhood with their daughter and two Siamese cats.