Backyard cottages are popular in theory, yet few homeowners end up building them. Just 221 have been built in the nine years that they’ve been legal(far fewer than Vancouver), despite the fact that 75,000 lots in the city are eligible to have one. Councilmember Mike O’Brien, whose been on the cottage beat for several years now., is looking to increase production with a slate of reforms that would streamline the construction of backyard cottages or DADUs (that’s Detached Accessory Dwelling Unit). You can read more from Stephen at the Urbanist here or Erica on her site. Even Knute Berger’s on board.
Along with some simplifications to the code (like normalizing height limits and where front doors are allowed to be placed), there are two headline changes. The first would remove the off-street parking requirement for DADUs inside urban villages. Requiring two off-street spaces for car storage drastically reduces the available space for a cottage. Furthermore, under current law, one can currently build an apartment building or townhouse development inside an urban village without parking, but a DADU property in the same urban village must have 2 off-street spaces. Fixing this imbalance is common sense. Lest anyone worry about an impending parking crisis, the report notes that, in Portland, 2/3 of cottage dwellers don’t park cars on the street, even though there’s no requirement to provide them with parking.
The second big change would lower the owner-occupancy requirement to 12 months. After that, the owner would be free to rent out both units. This would remove some economic uncertainty around resale and possibly make banks more willing to finance DADU construction.
The original owner-occupancy requirement comes from homeowners fearing hordes of renters descending on their neighborhoods. But this fear seems overblown, even if you set aside the ugly “renters are less-than” rhetoric that undergirds some of these conversations. It may shock many of these folks to learn that it’s currently legal to rent a house in a single family neighborhood. Believe it or not, its a popular option for groups of young (and not-so-young) people. They have chore wheels and everything.
At any rate, managing detached home rentals turns out to be quite labor-intensive and generally unappealing to large institutional investors. It’s unlikely we’ll see a rush of big developers looking to flood the city with backyard cottages.
Nonetheless, this package of reforms makes a ton of sense, and even though it’s incredibly mild and a huge walk-down from the original HALA proposal, it will likely still generate lots of anger from a few loud homeowners. It’s worth emailing city council and letting them know you support it.