SPUR’s #ADUHousing panel: cautious optimism for broad implementation in SF

150429_SPUR-ADUHousing-1_800(New Avenue) On Wednesday, April 29, urbanism advocacy institution SPUR brought together leading voices in the Bay Area’s Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) conversation to highlight opportunities and challenges in an increasingly probable approach to alleviating the region’s housing crisis.

SF Planning Department’s Kearstin Dischinger, a strong advocate for creative solutions to the city’s housing issues, introduced the context of the ADU trend (revolving mostly around multigenerational housing), the city’s current momentum (in the form of allowances for houses undergoing seismic retrofits) and potential to host ADUs in any of its thousands of large backyards. And she was quick to acknowledge that quieter neighborhoods are more opposed to the concept, and that the continued allowance of ADUs will be a piecemeal process. Kearstin presented a timeline of ADUs in San Francisco that dates back to housing WWII factory workers, was slowed by the spread of the automobile, and has had surging interest in the past 15 years, including new legal allowances.

Architect Mark Hogan then presented his work with CCA and SPUR to develop the sf-ADU Handbook – a resource he hopes will provide homeowners and contractors with sufficient research, design prototypes, and financial analysis to make educated decisions on aspiring accessory dwelling retrofits.

SF District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener, who’s been responsible for many of the City’s new allowances to build ADU’s (including the ability for Castro homeowners to build standalone units). Wiener echoed astonishment for Dischinger’s timeline, noting how today’s passing proposals would not have been allowed as recently as 10 years ago. He also noted that the neighborhoods that are NOT pushing back against ADU allowances are like those in his district – accustomed to density, and very familiar with the housing crunch.

New Avenue CEO Kevin Casey, who has been working with homeowners to build ADUs nationwide for the past five years, brought a sense of universality and specificity to the conversation. He first noted Balinese villages, where he studied as an anthropologist, and Pacific Heights and Silicon Valley tech mansions, owned by the likes of Larry Page, each incorporate ADUs as part of day-to-day living. He then got into the numbers.

Based on over 100 build projects in New Avenue’s database, Casey had compiled some realistic trends for the costs of ADU construction. The price is not necessarily cheap, but the real hurt is in the timeline. New Avenue can routinely turn around an ADU build in 18 months less time without engaging the permitting process. Suffice to say such constraints don’t lend themselves to by-the-book development – look no further than the East Bay Express for desperate Bay Area residents taking permanent affordable housing into their own hands.

Across the U.S., cities are considering allowances for ADU construction to keep urban living affordable or to make room for growing families, including Austin, Ann Arbor, Portland OR, Berkeley, and Silicon Valley. The issue is not so much “can this happen,” but “can the government nimbly (not NIMBY) promote legal development of ADUs?” and, of course, “are enough neighbors open to these additions?”

It’s only a matter of time before we find out.

150429_SPUR-ADUHousing-4_800 San Francisco District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener fielded ADU questions at SPUR on Wednesday.


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