A Forum on ADUs will take place at 10 AM, Saturday, January 13 at the Tempe History Museum.
To attend, RSVP to Cepand_Alizadeh@tempe.
ADUs Won’t Solve the Affordable Housing Shortage
But They Can Create a Host of Problems
By Ron Tapscott | January 11, 2024
The Council is considering a controversial concept, ADUs (Accessory Dwelling Units), ostensibly to address Tempe’s affordable housing crisis.
What Are ADUs?
ADUs are not a new housing concept. Carriage houses and coach houses are familiar historical examples of ADUs. Currently, 250 single-family homes in multi-family zoned districts are eligible for ADUs in Tempe. Of these, only 5, mostly in the historic Maple Ash neighborhood, have been permitted.
An ADU is a small, secondary leasable housing unit on a lot with a single-family dwelling that can be rented separately from the main residence. This is in contrast to Guest Quarters that are currently permitted in single-family residential districts but may NOT be rented out separately from the main residence.
The ADU concept was conceived to allow single-family homeowners to build accommodations for a family member, typically an elderly relative, allowing a relative to “age in place.” Currently, the City Code limits the area of ADUs to 800 square feet of livable floor area, and two bedrooms with provisions for setbacks and height.
What Is Being Proposed?
The current City Code permits ADUs only on multi-family zoned properties that already have a single-family home. The City is proposing that ADU permits be expanded to include single-family properties. This zoning change allows up to 29,838 single-family homeowners to build and rent ADUs on their properties.
The map below shows the 29,389 potential ADU-eligible lots with single-family zoning. 13,270 of these lots are north of U.S. 60 and 16,569 lie to the south.
How will the City Council market this zoning change?
The City will suggest that ADUs can (1) provide space for an aging relative, (2) be rented separately from the main residence and, (3) will help address the affordable housing crisis.
What are the facts and what are the concerns?
- Traffic, parking, garbage, noise. You may have an elderly relative in your ADU while your neighbors are renting to out-of-town sports fans or any group seeking a place to party into the night.
- ADUs will NOT help to address the affordable housing crisis. An article in Shelterforce reports that:
“Even if ADUs became legal in every city in every state, they can’t be built quickly enough to supply the millions of units the nation needs. Why? First, they’re built piecemeal, as single units. Then there are supply-chain disruptions of building materials and a construction labor shortage to deal with. Even if all barriers were removed, ramped-up production couldn’t match multifamily apartment complexes in terms of capacity and scale. A single ADU takes 12-18 months from permitting to completion. A multifamily building with 20-plus units averaged 19.7 months to build.”
- Predatory investors such as Blackstone’s Invitation Homes have been buying up single-family homes, mostly in mid-Tempe neighborhoods. An unintended consequence of the proposed zoning change could be unregulated private equity firms building additional rentals in these investment properties, as they seek to increase their return on their investment.
- Enforcement – Even if the City requires only owner-occupied homes to have ADUs, overseeing the placement, permitting and usage of as many as 30,000 backyard units will be expensive and hard to regulate.
- What else can happen? Mayor Woods said that he wants to see new ADU policies, so changes are very likely. Under his leadership, the Council will be considering code changes for ADU size/height, parking (on-premises vs not), construction type (manufactured, tiny home, container homes), reduced setbacks from curbs, alleys, or neighboring homes, and alleys used as driveways. They may also consider relaxing or removing the requirement for the owner living on the premises (see Predatory investors, above).
The expansion of ADUs to your neighborhood could impact your quality of life. Perhaps you already have problematic rental homes nearby that have residents and their guests coming and going, consuming substantial parking spaces on your street. ADUs could take that to another level. That’s why it is important to pay attention to what the city will be recommending and to provide feedback on proposed policy changes.
A Better Alternative
Consider the City of Phoenix’s ballot referral to sell municipal bonds last year. The City worked hand-in-hand with residents to seek their input and, as a result, 65% of Phoenicians voted to authorize the city to issue bonds of up to $63 million to provide funding for affordable housing and senior-center projects. Included is the construction of affordable housing units throughout the city to support low-to-moderate-income residents, address homelessness, repair existing affordable housing units, and build or renovate senior centers. We should follow in the footsteps of Phoenix.
Say “YES” to affordable housing and “NO” to ADUs in Tempe. Attend work sessions on ADU policy and send comments to the Mayor and Council.