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Combating Housing Shortages With Backyard Homes

Proposals to help address California’s housing crisis—such as allowing more housing closer to busy transit hubs—are sometimes met with refrains of “not in my backyard!” However, Los Angeles aims to combat the housing shortages by looking exactly there—in residents’ backyards.

Like many parts of the country, Los Angeles is facing the simultaneous stresses of too few homes and skyrocketing home prices. It’s only going to get worse: city government estimates it will need to build 100,000 new housing units by 2021 in order to keep up with demand. For the past couple of years, the city’s Innovation Team has been exploring an unorthodox solution: allowing residents to repurpose their backyards with the construction of smaller homes, or “accessory dwelling units” (ADU). With nearly half a million single-family homes located within the city of Los Angeles, that’s a lot of potential untapped space.

A Fast Company magazine post traces the recent history of Los Angeles’ experiment in backyard housing. The magazine recently declared the Los Angeles Innovation Team’s backyard home experiment the winner in the urban design category of their 2018 World Changing Ideas Awards. But the process began back in 2015, when the Innovation Team was born from a Bloomberg Philanthropies grant and directed by LA Mayor Eric Garcetti to “focus on the growing problem of displacement from rising rents.”

The Innovation Team partnered with architects from LA-Más, researchers from UCLA’s CityLab, and one local LA family to set about trying to build a backyard home. Along the way, every step of the process would be examined, from planning to building to securing the proper permits and cutting through the red tape involved. One major step was a bill that removed significant fees required to set up utilities for a backyard home, championed by Mayor Garcetti, which took effect last year.

LA isn't the only town experimenting with tiny homes as a solution to housing problems. San Jose, California, recently held meetings to discuss a possible “tiny homes” program as a means to combat homelessness. Tempe, Arizona, is building a community of 600-square-foot homes that will be available for $130,000 or less.

Los Angeles’ backyard home plan is thinking big, with a goal of 10,000 units by 2021. While there is still a long way to go, 2,342 ADU permits were issued in 2017, according to Fast Company. That’s up from only 120 in 2016. They say the longest journey begins with a single step; maybe the resolution to California’s housing shortage will begin with a few thousand tiny backyard houses.

About Author: David Wharton

David Wharton, Editor-in-Chief at the Five Star Institute, is a graduate of the University of Texas at Arlington, where he received his B.A. in English and minored in Journalism. Wharton has over 17 years' experience in journalism and previously worked at Thomson Reuters, a multinational mass media and information firm, as Associate Content Editor, focusing on producing media content related to tax and accounting principles and government rules and regulations for accounting professionals. Wharton has an extensive and diversified portfolio of freelance material, with published contributions in both online and print media publications. Wharton and his family currently reside in Arlington, Texas. He can be reached at David.Wharton@thefivestar.com.
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