When I find myself agreeing with the Indy, I get a little uncomfortable.  And, in fairness, I guess “agreeing” isn’t quite the right word here.  After all, the Indy appears to have been quite careful about actually expressing an opinion on the issue.  But their article this week, under the title Since 2011, Raleigh Residents Have Been Lobbying the City to Allow Backyard Cottages.  What’s the Holdup? does seem to suggest that it’s time for the city to move on this already.  And they’re right.

Read the Indy’s piece.  It is full of lots of useful information and background on the issue.  But I think these are three of the most important issues related to Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), or Backyard Cottages.

  1. Raleigh’s position on this issue is unusual.  The trend tends to be toward allowing more of these sorts of structures.  Raleigh is behind.  Indeed, I wrote just last month about Carolina Beach’s efforts to reduce restrictions on these kinds of buildings.  And the Indy cites plenty of other examples:Durham, Charlotte, Greensboro, Asheville, and several other cities across the state and nation have long allowed backyard cottages. In Portland, Oregon, nearly 11 percent of all residential permits between 2009 and 2015 were for ADUs. In California, the legislature passed a law this year requiring cities to allow backyard cottages.

    This could help to address the need for affordable housing.  We hear all the time that Raleigh doesn’t have enough affordable housing.  These sorts of dwellings would increase supply and create new, affordable options.  Again, from the Indy,
    Backyard cottages can cost from $50,000 on up and range from about five hundred to eight hundred square feet…For proponents, they’re a means of increasing urban density and offsetting the fact that Raleigh, especially close to downtown, is running out of land for new development. Indeed, the success of Raleigh and Wake County’s long-planned mass transit program will rely on more transplants moving into dense urban areas.

  3. This is a property rights issue.  For a variety of reasons, people may want to build a small dwelling on their property apart from the main residence.  Maybe an elderly parent needs to be nearby but still wants her independence.  Maybe a child in his twenties can’t afford his own place yet, but could use his own space.  Maybe a family wants to supplement their income by renting out a small cottage on a short or long term basis.

This should be an easy win for Raleigh.  Indeed, even some city council members are frustrated with the lack of action on the issue.  The city has a rare opportunity to simultaneously protect the freedom of individuals to use their property as they wish, increase the supply of affordable housing, and come into line with what other cities all across the country are doing.