More Cities Say Yes to Granny Apartments, ADUs

For cities that want to support granny apartments to address housing needs — its tough — but not impossible to revise local ordinances.

Granny apartments, or accessory dwelling units (ADUs), are one way to increase density in typically low-density neighborhoods. However, they’re often a hot-button issue for many communities where neighbors oppose secondary dwellings.

But, it’s getting harder for cities and metro regions to establish ordinances eliminating or reducing their numbers because of their potential as affordable housing.

Granny apartments can alleviate housing crunches in congested markets, house displaced people and provide supplementary income for homeowners, which may be needed for various reasons from property upkeep to managing expenses during retirement. ADUs are common practice in some areas outside of the United States, like Europe and Columbia.

ADUs in Small Sizes, Akin to Tiny Homes

Granny apartments, according to the U.S Agency for Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in a 2008 case study publication, are separate living quarters of single-family homes, equipped with a kitchen and bathroom, that can be attached or detached from the main residence.

There’s a whole page on Pinterest with all the great ways to make small spaces livable. Granny apartment ideology, particularly with detached styles, pairs well with the minimalist Tiny House craze and is regarded by some as a valuable solve for homelessness in cities.

HUD’s case study provides examples of communities, like Santa Cruz, California, Lexington, Massachusetts, and Portland, Oregon, that implemented ADUs because they relied on existing housing stock to meet rising demand.

The ADUs Challenge & Code Paralysis

In 2016 California passed a new ADU law clearing code hurdles and potentially lowering costs to enable homeowners to build secondary dwellings on their properties. Sonoma County — which reportedly lost about 3,000 residential structures in the 2017 Northern California Wildfires — is thinking about loosening local granny apartment restrictions in developing transitional housing plans. 

Ira Belgrade, a Los Angeles homeowner who claims to be the first in the city to get a legal ADU permit for his granny apartment, runs the website offering encouragement and services to homeowners looking to get their illegal units above board. On his website he says that while it’s now legal, it’s complicated, but he has cracked the code. However, the city of Los Angeles is working on a local ordinance that is more restrictive than the state’s new law, according to CBS Los Angeles. The reason? Utility connections as they relate to housing standards and safety.

Arlington County, Virginia, and other areas of the Beltway around the nation’s capital, are looking to reduce restrictions after only 20 homeowners out of 28,000 eligible successfully obtained ADU licenses over the last eight years, according to the Washington Post.

Anthony Flint, who was formerly with the Office for Commonwealth Development, wrote for CityLabin 2016 that Massachusetts also struggled with utilizing granny apartments to increase housing opportunities:

Fueled by NIMBYism and concerns about density and school enrollment and parking and congestion, cities and towns wrote reams of codes requiring that property owners prove any occupants of ADUs were actually related. If not, owners could expect to be visited by inspectors checking out separate entrances and working kitchens and evidence of occupation, and brace for a fine. Eagle-eyed neighbors spotting a second mailbox or satellite dish were more than happy to alert the authorities,” Flint wrote.

It’s a code paralysis the former Governor Mitt Romney’s administration couldn’t find its way around as it sought to use existing ADUs to support Massachusetts’ smart growth and transit-oriented development goals.

Additionally, communities from San Francisco to New Orleans and New York City are concerned ADUs, along with other housing stock, could be used for short-term rentals through services like Airbnb rather than housing for residents.

Reasonable Process Established for Granny Apartments 

Flint wrote about the Colorado town of Durango that seemed to get around this code paralysis between 2009 and 2013 as it confronted housing and community development issues.

Durango updated its Land Use and Development Code, calling out ADUs as acceptable housing stock. Flint called Durango’s process reasonable because the code:

  • Limits the number of occupants — no more than five unrelated people
  • Places a minimum size of living space at 550 square feet
  • Requires the main home to be owner-occupied
  • Bans short-term vacation rentals, such as through Airbnb
  • Implements design guidelines for balconies, window placements and exterior staircases

The city chose to eliminate the possibility of absentee landlords, as well as renting spaces for tourism, Flint wrote.

No Secret Sauce for Granny Apartments

After the new code was established, the town set up an amnesty program for existing ADUs as part of its ADU Program. In exchange for becoming a legal unit in the city, owners were asked to:

  • Pay fees ranging from $2,000 to $9,000
  • Sign affidavits on structural safety
  • Provide occupancy and structural details, like utilities

Not everyone in Durango was happy, but the city stood firm, releasing the following information video to address concerns of the opposition:

HUD directs those interested to the Santa Cruz ADU Manual, and the city has a Plan Sets Book with seven prototype ADU designs, which may be purchased.

Access Santa Cruz ADU publications information on the city’s website.

Webinar & Guide: How to Clean Up Flooded Homes

Can homes flooded in hurricane disasters be saved? This webinar and guide teaches homeowners and public housing agencies how to clean up flooded homes safely.

In a recent webinar on how to clean up flooded homes that 300 people, mostly from regions affected by Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma, attended, Jonathan Wilson of National Center for Healthy Housing (NCHH) provided the good news:

Yes, you can save those houses,” he told Florida and Texas homeowners, housing and community development agency representatives, municipal employees and builders and designers focused on recovering flood damaged housing.

Wilson supported recovery efforts in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina and said he was brought in to answer the question, could homes flooded above six feet with mold up to the ceiling be saved and made healthy and livable again? In partnership with Enterprise Community Partners (Enterprise), NCHH created the illustrated step-by-step Field Guide for Clean-Up of Flooded Homes for do-it-yourselfers and contractors to prevent mold-related health problems and save storm-damaged homes.

Why ‘How to Clean up Flooded Homes’ Resources are Needed

Enterprise, the Florida Housing Coalition, NCHH, and NeighborWorks America brought in Armand Magnelli from Livable Housing, Inc., to deliver the two-hour “How to Restore Your Flooded Home: Addressing Mold & other Health-Related Hazards” to share best practices and post-flood mold remediation techniques to make damaged homes safe and habitable. The webinar highlighted the dangers of mold, the six main points of exposure from inspection to moving back in and the stages, including best practices, products and tools needed to safely complete remediation work.

Because current rebuilding estimates make Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma “unofficially the third and fourth costliest hurricanes in U.S. history,” according to Enterprise,  hundreds of thousands of residents are “displaced, without power and at risk of serious health issues if damp conditions and mold are left untreated.”

Many residents need to know how to clean up flooded homes because the clock is ticking.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Transitional Sheltering Assistance program was recently extended for Hurricane Harvey survivors. And in Florida, where FEMA has approved hundreds of millions in assistance to numerous counties, local official cautioned weeks ago that home inspections related to federal aid often accomplished in a week to 10 days might now take up to a month, according to the Palm Beach Post.

Funding may not be available, or may not reach disaster displaced people in time, and the urgency to rehouse is great. Magnelli opened the webinar with a poll, and about half of attending respondents indicated they were doing the mold remediation work themselves. Magnelli couldn’t stress enough how dangerous mold is before he walked through the safety issues and key steps in cleaning it up.

Living in a building during reconstruction is of special concern, he said.

Mold can cause serious health problems for young children, seniors and anyone with respiratory illnesses and weak immune systems.  According to Laurie Schoeman, the program director for Enterprise’s National Resilience Initiative, the “aha moment” came when attendees learned about measuring the air quality of an impacted home, that the level of mold spores can go up and down in the phases after flooding disaster.

Who Should Watch the Webinar and Use the Guide

The webinar and guide in how to clean up flooded homes is designed for:

  • Community-based organizations
  • Contractors
  • Housing owners
  • Technical assistance providers
  • Code enforcement officials
  • Volunteer housing managers
  • Finance partners involved in clean-up and risk mitigation

The field guide was developed out of hurricane recovery response and draws from the recovery and rebuilding experience after Hurricanes Katrina, Sandy, Irene and Rita.

Cleaning up after a flood or extreme weather event is a labor-intensive and hazardous process, according to the webinar notes. While the basic concepts of the field guide will not change, said Schoeman, Enterprise and NHCC are currently working on updates on equipment requirements and mold data and will add more robust information to the remediation process section.

Why Housing Agencies are on the Frontlines of Disasters

In particular, housing agencies face numerous challenges during recovery efforts after an event like Hurricane Harvey, Schoeman told EfficientGov.

For starters, there are the tight budgets that have gotten even tighter. In July, the approved 2018 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Senate Appropriations bill cut $88 million from the U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Choice Neighborhoods Program, according to Vermontbiz, affecting public housing agency budgets.

They are really strapped,” said Schoeman.

Enterprise regularly engages with public housing agencies and partnering organizations on resilience and emergency response issues to help them mitigate exposures by shaving costs and improving efficiency, she said. The goal is to address communities in recovery and complacency in at-risk communities. Continuity of operations is an integral part of operations and maintenance routines, and creating emergency preparedness programs improves community resilience.

“When a climate event hits, it’s catastrophic.”

Second, a lot of agencies didn’t have emergency plans for certain housing, Schoeman added, citing the example of the seniors sitting up to their waists in water at the La Vita Bella Nursing Home in Dickinson, Texas, which went viral on social media and alerted local rescuers of the dire situation.

Enterprise provides community development corporations (CDCs) with funding and technical support. It’s the CDCs, housing agencies and partners that bring the recovery support to the facilities, buildings and residents who need it, said Schoeman.

We really feel like these housing organizations are fire houses of sorts,” she said.

Schoeman shared the webinar and webinar notes, below.

Webinar Quick Tips
  • Inactive mold is a hazard, particularly with asthma development and respiratory infections and allergic rhinitis, but cleaning is standard with borate-type treatment products and half-face, negative air respirators with a HEPA filter.
  • If sewage, which is hazardous, is or was present in stormwater, clean-up will also require bleach, and in standing water, waders.
  • Unexpected animal residues, like pigeon nests, are incredibly toxic.
  • Open cuts raise exposure to all contaminants present in flood and storm damaged buildings.
  • Know that moisture is the ultimate enemy: “We have to get the buildings dry before we close them in or apply finishes,” within 24-28 hours., Magnelli stressed.
  • The basic steps of how to clean up flooded homes are: protection protocols, thorough cleaning, scrubbing down, drying the building out, treating with borate to reduce mold growth potential, more thorough drying and increasing sustainability in reconstruction where possible.
  • Fogging or spraying throughout a flood damaged building is not recommended.
  • Inspectors should have no connection to those doing the remediation work, which may be mandated by law in some places, such as the state of Louisiana.
Webinar Notes: Here’s Five Things to Know About How to Clean Up Flooded Homes

Ensure you’re taking all precautions necessary and addressing every issue in the cleanup process.

#1 There are major health risks. These are the top causes of health problems you’ll need to keep in mind when you’re working in flooded homes:

  • Structural problems – this includes shifted foundations and rotted floorboards. DO NOT enter the building if the foundation has been pushed, and test for the latter by hitting floorboards with the end of a two-by-four.
  • Mold – too small to be seen with the naked eye, mold spores floating in the air cause issues for allergy-sufferers: anything from a stuffy nose to a life-threatening asthma attack.
  • Lead dust – caused by lead paint drying and flaking, symptoms are typically nonexistent.
  • Carbon monoxide (CO) – do not use fuel-burning equipment, including portable generators, inside flood-damaged homes; CO poisoning can cause sudden illness and death.
  • Cuts and punctures – broken glass and boards and exposed nails are additional hazards present in contaminated floodwaters.
  • Electric shock – turn off the electricity at the breaker before starting work; any electrical device that has been flooded is a danger.

#2 It’s important to create an agreement with any mold remediation professional. Per the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Centers for Disease Control, hire a professional if mold covers an area of 100 square feet or a 10-by-10-foot space. Then, make sure you have an agreement that you will hold the payment until the work passes an inspection. The inspection should show there is no visible mold, no mold odors and that air tested after the work was done has a safe level of indoor air quality.

#3 Passing inspection is two-tiered. First, there’s the Basic Safety Inspection where you check for structural damage, have your electrical and natural gas system inspected, etc. Next, there’s the Flood/Storm Damage Inspection where you check for mold and water damage, take inventory of what can be salvaged, etc.

#4 Protective equipment is a must. Some steps in the cleanup process require head-to-toe protection – lungs, eyes, ears, feet, head and hands – everything from goggles to work boots with steel shank, toe and insole. The minimum you’ll find for any level is a cap, safety glasses and an N95 or N100 respirator.

#5 There are eight stages in the cleanup process:

  • Pre-work Inspection: Open the doors and windows for 30 minutes before you start working in the home to reduce odor levels and allow for dilution of airborne contaminants. In this step, you’ll also need to complete a Basic Safety Inspection and a Flood/Storm Damage Inspection.
  • Before work begins: In this stage you purchase or rent your tools and supplies, plan for trash removal, make sure you have a working bathroom, etc.
  • Site preparation: This is when you set up a safety and cleanup area, put on your personal protection equipment, lay a plywood path, and so on.
  • Clean-out: Here you’ll complete tasks such as removing furniture and appliances, remove wall-to-wall carpet and clean out closets and kitchen cabinets.
  • Gut tear-out procedure: As the name implies, this is where you get into the more heavy-duty portion of the process – tearing down drywall or plaster ceilings and walls, removing layers from the floor, tearing out cabinets, and so on.
  • Pre-construction cleaning and treatment: In this stage you’ll be preparing the space for construction – dry brushing and vacuuming all surfaces, disinfecting all hard surfaces, drying out the building, etc.
  • Selective tear out and preparation before restoration: There are a few more tasks to complete before restoration begins, such as ventilating the attic, opening the crawl space, and disposing of insulation.
  • Restore possessions: Finally, you’ll need to take care of what you salvaged by sponging off wood furnishings, disposing of or thoroughly washing clothing and textiles, and damp-wiping china, glass, jewelry, porcelain and metal possessions.

Enterprise Community Partners, headquartered in Columbia, Md., and its partners are working to develop a similar webcast to be delivered in Spanish for Puerto Rico attendees following the Hurricane Irma disaster. Through offices in 11 metropolitan areas, Enterprise partners with affordable multifamily property owners, government agencies and community development corporations to support resilience at the building, neighborhood, city and state levels, offering a range of products, services and grants. For example, Enterprise  is an intermediary under the Section 4 Capacity Building for Affordable Housing and Community Development program, funded by the HUD and is currently administering rolling hurricane recovery grants.

9 Proposed Trump HUD Program Cuts & The Case for Block Grants

This first proposed Trump Budget could kill the Community Development Block Grants completely if HUD’s working recommendations survive OMB.

According to the Washington Post — based on a preliminary agency working document it examined — overall proposed funding cuts to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) are about 14 percent, leaving $40.5 billion for FY2018. The proposed HUD program cuts would press public housing authorities in public housing building maintenance and repair expenses, and eliminate funding for community development projects valuable to cities and counties across the United States.

The document recommended shifting funds to the Trump Administration’s promised infrastructure package. While the working document recommended the programs cut should receive funding from other sources, it’s unclear what those sources might be.

According to a HUD spokesman contacted by the Washington Post, the document may not have been reviewed yet by the Office of Management and Budget, which finalizes the budget proposal before it goes to Congress.

The Associated Press also reported that Housing Secretary Ben Carson emailed HUD employees telling them the proposed HUD program cuts were just “starting numbers.”

Nevertheless, the starting point for HUD cuts include:

  1. Maintaining the same level of funding for rental assistance programs
  2. Minimizing HUD salaries and administrative expenses by 5 percent
  3. Slashing the public housing capital fund by $1.3 billion, a reduction of 32 percent
  4. Cutting $600 million would from the public housing operating fund
  5. Lowering direct rental assistance payments — including Section 8 Housing and homeless veterans vouchers — by $300 million
  6. Removing 10 percent ($42 million) for elderly housing Section 202
  7. Reducing disabled housing programs under Section 811 by 20 percent ($29 million)
  8. Reducing Native American housing block grants by 20 percent ($150 million)
  9. Eliminating the $3 billion Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) program — i.e., Choice Neighborhoods and HOME Investment Partnerships

The Case for Saving CDBG 

Cities depend on Federal HUD funds for housing services, homelessness and prevention, education and workforce development that helps people and families get out of subsidized housing, blight and housing for the elderly, at-risk youth, disabled people and those in urgent need.

The more than 40-year old CDBG program is a cornerstone tool for cities to pay for affordable housing development, create economic opportunities and ensure suitable living environments for low- and moderate-income residents.

CDBG was cut by more than $2 billion in 2016, but cities like McKinney, Texas, are still accepting applications from eligible organizations for CDBG grants, while places like Barnstable County, Mass., are planning for next year.

Community organizations in cities like Cincinnati reported they would be greatly affected. For example, Choice Neighborhood projects like that of the city’s Avondale neighborhood — which helped leverage redevelopment of Avondale Towne Center and a neighborhood health clinic and more — depend on continued funding. Avondale’s Choice Neighborhood Transformation plan has been realized by the work of groups like The Community Builders (TCB), Urban League, Cincinnati Public Schools and Center for Closing the Health Gap that are funded by CDBG grants.

Cuts to CDBG during the Bush Administration were criticized by then New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg because of their significance to social justice, and he advocated for mixed-use development in Federally-funded housing projects:

It’s simply too important and too valuable to be allowed to die on the vine,” Bloomberg reportedly said in a 2006 speech before 300 members of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

Last year, along with Denver, Louisville, St. Louis and Camden, N.J., HUD awarded Boston a $30 million Choice Neighborhoods grant for the mixed-use Whittier Choice Neighborhood Transformation Plan.

The total $120 million in CDBG grants enable the cities to replace 1,853 severely distressed public housing units with nearly 3,700 new mixed-income, mixed-use housing units as part of plans to revitalize specific neighborhoods. At the time, HUD calculated that with these CDBG grants, the cities are leveraging an additional $636 million through public-private partnerships.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu slammed the proposed HUD program cuts. In a press release, he indicated that his city has relied on CDBG grants for community health clinics and to help low-income seniors and other homeowners:

HUD’s CDBG program is the most vital lifeline to cities and counties to get things done for real people on the ground. President Trump’s plan to cut critical CDBG funding used to build infrastructure and fund services to senior citizens, recreation and blight remediation, among others, will not make America great again,” said Landrieu.

The Threat of Increased Homelessness

New York City stands to lose at least $35 million from proposed HUD program cuts, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Housing groups are saying the result of the Trump Administration moving forward with funding cuts for the New York City Housing Authority would be an increase in the city’s vast homelessness.

New York City hit a record high for the number of homeless residents in November 2016, according to CBS New York.

Mayor Bill DeBlasio’s affordable housing strategy and homelessness promises — already complicated for numerous reasons from ‘land grabs’ to sparring with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo over the city’s tax credit approach with developers —  will become even more problematic in the face of the proposed HUD program cuts in the working document obtained by the Washington Post.

Will Housing Secretary Ben Carson Pull Back on Killing Block Grants and Reducing Veterans Vouchers?

The choice of Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, for Housing Secretary was widely criticized during his nomination hearings due to his lack of experience in the public housing sector.

During those Congressional hearings, Carson’s answers to questions were not entirely controversial, as reported by Affordable Housing Finance. At the time, Diane Yentel, president and chief executive officer of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, said she was relieved by his responses to key questions:

[Carson] gave strong support to rental assistance programs, public housing, VASH vouchers, Community Development Block Grants, Choice Neighborhoods and lead abatement programs, and he recognized the role housing plays as a social determinant of health. He acknowledged that fair housing is the ‘law of the land’ and committed to upholding and implementing the law.”

Additional Resources

Learn more about the VASH achievements and cuts on