Could an Empty Garage Solve Housing Crisis?

That empty garage being used for storage may be the answer to a housing shortage that is ailing markets across the country, housing analysts say. Several communities nationwide are considering lifting zoning requirements to allow more accessory dwelling units or ADUs, which would permit adding extra housing onto an existing home.

California, facing an epic housing shortage, is one state actively pursuing the idea. A recent report from the California Housing Partnership says that the state needs 1.4 million more affordable rental homes to meet current population needs. California lawmakers have been relaxing their laws to allow more ADUs – whether that’s a garage conversion, backyard cottage, an in-law apartment or granny flat that could be added onto an existing home. Calif. Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed a law to urge greater construction of ADUs.

Companies are now stepping in to help. One project under way, called United Dwelling, enters into a partnership with a homeowner and pays for the garage conversion. Once it is converted into a living area, they’ll then manage the rental of the apartment to a tenant and split the rent with the homeowner. The company received a million-dollar grant last year from Los Angeles County to help grow its garage conversions in the area.

ADUs have been regarded not only as a way for homeowners to generate extra income but also as a place for young adults who move back home or aging parents who want to move in. ADUs could also help provide greater affordable housing to low-income populations in need, housing analysts say.

However, one common complaint regarding affordable housing has been the impact to neighboring properties, including having more people living on one property and street parking issues.

“While nonprofit housing developers prioritize multifamily developments, we support ADUs as one of many tools that can help address our housing crisis, given the staggering deficit of units across California for people of all incomes,” Alan Greenlee, executive director of the Southern California Association of Nonprofit Housing, told The New York Times. “Notably, ADUs can help achieve greater density of units in neighborhoods that are primarily zoned for single-family homes.”