UPDATE to this opinion piece added June 6:
Here’s a link to “MadLIB” Storytelling Form & Talking Points to help you send an email to council if you have an ADU story to tell, or prepare for testimony if you can attend. Don’t have time to write your story? Here’s a form letter from Tech 4 Housing to send quickly to all councilmembers.
Article originally posted on on March 18:
Sally and Charlie built their North Seattle DADU (Detached Accessory Dwelling Units) to house aging parents. When the parents decided to move out of state, they moved into the DADU with their kids and rented out the main house to their friend, a single parent. Aiko is retired. She is interested in adding an ADU (Attached Accessory Dwelling Units) for a caregiver and a DADU to rent either to short or long-term tenants to offset medical bills. Betty is a retired single parent. She lives in a DADU and rents her primary home to a family that includes three generations. She plans to age-in-place. Mike has worked 30+ years in local arts and construction. As he ages, he finds it difficult to find work and is one step from living in his car. A garage apartment was remodeled as a family-sized DADU by George, the director of a Japanese American church. The income will go toward church events and maintenance. Tom plans to add an ADU to his childhood home so his mom can retire in her South Seattle community.
What are ADUs?
Built in the backyards of single-family residences, DADUs and ADUs are small homes (800-1000 square feet) that can be part of providing affordable housing. Portland, Vancouver BC, Los Angeles and other East and West Coast cities and towns are adding them in their communities. Oregon and California have passed their own version of progressive statewide legislation. The pending regulations would allow more middle-income homeowners to use the equity from their homes and build on land that is already connected to city infrastructure. It is a great way to house elderly parents, transition high school and college graduates to financial independence, and help friends and neighbors about to be pushed out of the city.
Relevance to the API community
For Asian Americans, intergenerational living is not new. My parents moved in with my brother when they were in their 70s. Proximity to family members and community is beneficial. Middle-aged adults don’t need to travel far to help their parents. Grandparents can more easily help care for their grandchildren. Savings get passed down through generations to pay bills and save for emergencies.
As part of the changing U.S. demographics and as historically marginalized groups, Asian and Pacific Islanders need to be part of the decision-making process. I am still surprised to go to meetings where I find there are only a few Asian attendees out of over 50 people.
A bi-partisan Washington State Bill (HB 1797) was introduced in January by Representatives Mia Gregerson (D), a Vietnamese American lawmaker, and Andrew Barkis (R). Rep. Gregerson and her mother live together, so she had her own personal story and how it could help the people in her neighborhood of Seatac. Rep. Barkis who is familiar with rental markets stated that rentals are cyclical, and the flexibility to go back and forth from short to long term is important.
House Bill 1797 & Senate Bill 5812
Along with the less contentious rules, the bill would:
- Allow three units (main house, attached ADU and detached DADU.) Adding two homes to a single family lot adds twice the amount of affordable housing within existing infrastructure.
- Eliminate off street parking if creating an ADU/DADU (one parking spot is still required for the main house). This allows for more flexibility in the design of the ADU/DADU plans. More room to move things around on the site means privacy from each unit on the property and from adjacent neighbors is easier to accomplish. The land area that a parking spot takes could also be used for more garden or play area for kids or pets.
- Eliminate the requirement for the owner to live on the property. Many want this flexibility if they are going to spend their life savings on this important decision.
Over the last three years, a group of Seattle single-family homeowners filed an appeal that slowed down efforts to expand opportunities to build ADUs. Some Seattle residents have had their projects on hold since then and other have abandoned them entirely.
Beyond your own backyard
ADU has obvious benefits for families, but we can do more and provide homes for those who weren’t fortunate to be an owner before sky high real estate prices. The production of ADUs also contributes to a denser, more walkable single-family neighborhood, especially if active retail and small businesses are supported by zoning changes. This has the potential to further strengthen a community, contribute to health of an individual and the environment.
The power of ADUs
Having worked 20+ years on custom single family homes, mixed-income multi-family housing and ADU/DADUs, I am convinced that reducing regulations and providing financial assistance or incentives on these modest sized homes are a critical piece of Seattle’s affordability puzzle. Most clients are able to tackle building them (with help from the city and an architect with the permitting/building process). These homeowners are part of the solution that all communities can benefit from. It’s an age-old co-living model that works.
Please contact your Washington legislators and City of Seattle OPCD. Attend future meetings and make your voice heard.
Chrystine Kim is an architect who collects stories, designs and advocates for good density and walkable cities. She has lived in Seattle for 25 years, owned her home for 19 years and would like to build an ADU and DADU. See “Residential” and “Small House News” tabs on her website www.chrystinekim.com and connect on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/chrystinekim/ .