Metropolis

Can ADUs Help Solve Our Housing Crisis?

In defense of the humble, but mighty, accessory dwelling unit

Coby Lefkowitz
Marker
Published in
16 min readDec 13, 2021

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A recently completed ADU in Austin, Texas, by JH Architecture. Source: Jeff Wilson Photography / Making Modern Home

America is in the midst of a desperate housing crisis. While this, alarmingly, isn’t yet a reality broadly accepted by society, this reality is unyielding. Much like the state of climate change discourse a decade or two ago, the facts are incorruptible, and will continue to threaten our neighbors around the country whether one chooses to believe them or not. Nearly half of American renters (representing 36% of all households) are burdened by housing costs. 25% are severely burdened, meaning they spend more than half of their gross household income on housing. At these levels, it’s nearly impossible to afford all of the essentials a family needs. This has grave downstream consequences on individuals and neighborhoods. Not only are people spending more of their income on housing, they’re receiving very poor quality housing in return. Their lived experiences cannot be denied. Chiding from observers who neither know nor appreciate these conditions borders on dangerous behavior.

For those who are clear-eyed about the state of our housing, there’s intense debate surrounding how exactly we should try to cure it. While the need to provide more housing is obvious as this is a supply-driven crisis, where shortages in the most in-demand areas have been exacerbated by population growth (a good thing) and an unwillingness to address the underlying factors (a bad thing), there’s no obvious path forward.

Part of this is due to the limiting nature of zoning codes, those guiding principles that delineate just what can be built where in North American cities, to an often debilitating effect. The rigid nature of these codes doesn’t allow cities to flex quick, responsive actions to address prevailing issues. These codes are nearly century old, unending documents that are only infrequently updated. Their antiquated and bureaucratic nature cannot adequately meet our needs today, so we’re stuck operating within a mid-century paradigm, with mid-century ideals, and hastily tacked on amendments that rarely supersede their suffocating precedents. While organizations like the Congress for New Urbanism have been working hard on initiatives like The Project for Code Reform to help bring…

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Coby Lefkowitz
Marker
Writer for

Urbanist, Developer, Writer, & Optimist working to create more beautiful, sustainable, healthy, equitable and people-oriented places.