SAN FRANCISCO—Accessory Dwelling Units/ADU conversions are nowlegal throughout California, thanks to landmark by-right ADU lawssigned by the governor in 2017 and 2020 that address the state'shousing crisis. These laws not only give Californians the tools toease the housing crisis, but more imminently, the healthcrisis.

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"It is heartening to know that there was strong and widespreadlegislative support for these groundbreaking laws that deliverclear benefits to needy households in California, but theCalifornia ADU by-right laws are so recent that many Californiansare unaware of them," Denise Pinkston, partner, TMG Partners, andfounder/president, The Casita Coalition, tells GlobeSt.com. "ADUs,also known as grannie flats or second units, are cheaper to build,attractive to renters who want to stay in their neighborhoods andnow are easier than ever to create."

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In 2017, California legalized the conversion of existingbuildings such as garages and basements on single-family lots toADUs. On January 1, 2020, this law expanded to allow everysingle-family homeowner to add both an ADU and a junior ADU,including a new structure in the yard. Specs can include a new800-square-foot freestanding 16-foot-tall structure within 4 feetof back- and side-yard lines, regardless of lot coverage or otherzoning requirements.

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"This makes possible a not-too-distant future where familieswill be able to order a plug-and-play ADU to be set up in theiryard for about the price and ease of ordering a car online,"Pinkston tells GlobeSt.com. "This will be part of the revolution ofthe home design, building and delivery industry, creating moreinclusive neighborhoods where families in a variety of jobs,including essential service providers priced out today, can onceagain live."

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This future is becoming reality today as more California citieslegalize tiny homes as ADUs which can be installed in a few monthsfor around $50,000, priced most recently in Los Angeles, San Joseand San Diego, Pinkston says.

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The 2020 laws also allows for ADUs in rear yards and unusedareas of apartment buildings (attics, storage areas, garages)following a model established by San Francisco. Apartment ownersstatewide are just beginning to explore how these laws will allowthem to add a unit to existing properties without disruptingcurrent tenants. Over time, multifamily property ADUs will become asignificant portion of new ADU development.

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So today, every California residential property owner can createthese homes by right with only a building permit. And, the 2017laws produced significant changes that are just now beingrealized.

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According to UC Berkeley's Terner Center, the number ofaccessory homes in California increased by more than 500% as aresult of the 2017 law alone. The new 2020 changes make Californiathe national leader in state-led by-right ADU policies, and willunleash another wave of ADU home deliveries.

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Cities that removed ADU barriers saw 20 to 30% of homes add anADU within a decade (Vancouver, Portland, Seattle and New SouthWales, Australia). If just 30% of the nearly 7 millionsingle-family homes in California added an ADU, with more inmultifamily properties, California could shelter more than 2million more households. That is nearly one-third of theaspirational 3.4 million new homes that the McKinsey GlobalInstitute identified as the housing need for California.

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Whether in Fresno, Los Angeles, Modesto, Oakland, San Diego orSan Jose, there are homes on lots with land and garages owned byfamilies who can individually solve California's housing crisis.This, along with providing housing to those left in the lurch byCOVID, can renew communities, Pinkston says.

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"When the shelter-in-place orders are lifted, millions ofCalifornia families can begin to house extended family, elders andcommunity members facing economic catastrophe as a result of theCOVID-19 pandemic right now right at home," Pinkston tellsGlobeSt.com. "ADUs are not the only or even the most importanthousing solution, but they are tool that small property owners canuse right now to make a difference today."

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Other solutions include Pinkston's Casita Coalition, which wasformed in late 2019 as a statewide network to support homeowners,cities and professionals to expand ADUs and small-housingoptions.  Many of its founders and members wereinstrumental in bringing about recent law changes.

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As the recent recipients of a $400,000 start-up grant from theChan Zuckerberg Institute, The Casita Coalition will be ramping upits efforts to communicate the big benefits of small housing,Pinkston says.

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Lisa Brown

Lisa Brown is an editor for the south and west regions of GlobeSt.com. She has 25-plus years of real estate experience, with a regional PR role at Grubb & Ellis and a national communications position at MMI. Brown also spent 10 years as executive director at NAIOP San Francisco Bay Area chapter, where she led the organization to achieving its first national award honors and recognition on Capitol Hill. She has written extensively on commercial real estate topics and edited numerous pieces on the subject.