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The rise of additional dwelling units in response to housing shortages
Author: Layan Barakat
Photographer: Devon Pastorius
12 months ago
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Additional Dwelling Units (ADUs) are an increasingly popular solution to the housing shortage problem that has taken hold in many cities, including Windsor-Essex. An ADU is a self-contained living unit within an existing residential property; they provide a cost-effective and sustainable housing option to help alleviate the housing crisis that has become a hot topic among the YQG community and beyond.

“Great communities are more than roads, sewers, and high-rise buildings; great communities have a social conscience.  So we have to speak up and try to set a direction for our housing development,” said Gail Stiffler, retired business owner and volunteer community advocate for affordable, attainable housing.  “The path towards achieving housing affordability must be based on a human rights approach.”

ADUs increase housing availability in any community and provide a much-needed solution to the problem of housing affordability by creating additional living spaces within existing properties. In addition, homeowners can rent out their ADUs to tenants, providing a source of income while increasing the housing supply. This way, more people can find suitable and affordable housing options while existing homeowners can provide an additional income stream for themselves and their families.

“Tiny dwellings may have small footprints, but they have a monumental impact,” said Tannis Bence, co-founder of Newgrange Build, “At Newgrange Build, we feel that in a consumerism-oriented society, less is more, and we need to get back to the basics of human design. The ‘human aspect’ of housing is so important. It’s a luxury to have a detached home, no matter the size, and a bonus if it’s one with a yard and personal space to grow.”

Utilizing their respective real estate and contracting skills, Tannis and her partner Michael created a company that builds modern, functional ADUs. “Michael built tiny homes for many years through an incredible company based in Vancouver, BC. We owned one of these homes and lived in it for a year before selling it and moving here,” said Tannis. ‘We have seen the impact of how this movement can break the barriers of homeownership for so many and can also work to provide a space for family members or even act as a mortgage helper.”

ADUs are a sustainable and cost-effective way of increasing the housing supply. Building new housing development requires significant resources, time, and money. ADUs, on the other hand, utilize existing structures, minimizing construction costs and reducing the carbon footprint associated with new developments.

“We’re in a situation where housing has become unaffordable for the average person to enter the market. So a lot of people are looking towards multigenerational options; for example, if you have an older child who wants to get out of the house but can’t afford to buy a home yet or an aging parent who you want to have close by, ADUs give you that proximity and that privacy. So there are a lot of benefits, and you can also do it in a way that doesn’t break the bank; a lot of detached ADUs typically rent below market, and that’s because the homeowner is just looking for a flexible space for their family members,” said Sarah Cipkar, Founder and co-lead researcher of ADU Search, a tool that allows homeowners, policymakers and contractors to better understand zoning bylaws for tiny homes within municipalities across the province.

“In building the tool, we wanted to know how many backyards do we have that could house ADUs, from there we realized we were only solving one problem for the homeowner, which is “Is my lot suitable?” we actually want to help the homeowner a lot more so we’re pivoting to a new product called ADU Build, which will launch in the next six months to a year, we’re essentially going to be helping the homeowner through that development process and facilitating some of those connections to the external industry stakeholders,” said Sarah.

In addition to providing affordable housing options and income opportunities, ADUs can help build more diverse communities. By increasing housing availability, these dwellings have the potential to attract new residents to the Windsor-Essex community or provide affordable homes for existing residents. ADUs also help address the issue of aging in place, which is becoming increasingly crucial in aging populations. Seniors can live independently in their ADUs while being close to their families and support networks. These dwellings can be designed to be accessible, with features such as wheelchair ramps, grab bars, and wider doorways.

“One of the things that’s happened since Covid is we have learned to live a simpler lifestyle. We’re reminded of what’s important and learned we don’t need as much as we thought. We remembered that there’s no place like home, and I think we’ve also deepened our ties with our loved ones,” says Gail.

The COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on aging communities, particularly when it comes to social isolation. Vulnerable communities took extra precautions through the pandemic to keep themselves and loved ones safe; unfortunately, while these measures have helped to protect older adults, they have also increased their risk of social isolation and loneliness. ADUs allow our senior community to live independently while still being close to family or caregivers. This can be especially beneficial for those needing occasional assistance or monitoring but still want to maintain autonomy.

“Generally speaking, the housing market demand and price point are high, and inventory is low,” said Lyndsey Janke of Renew Home Solutions. “However, additional dwelling units certainly present an opportunity to those looking for independent living space while maintaining close proximity to family members. It also provides alternative accommodation potential for those looking to rent and is an excellent way for property owners to maximize the income generated through their investment properties.”

Renew Home Solutions offers fully custom ADU construction by modifying an existing interior dwelling space, adding on an addition, or building a separate dwelling unit.

“Most [customer] inquiries fall under one of two scenarios; 1) homeowners who require additional space for family members who would like independent separate living space (typically aging parents or children who have recently graduated from school and are returning home) or 2) individuals whom own rental/income properties and are looking to increase their properties income potential by adding an ADU,” said Lyndsey.

ADUs offer many benefits to homeowners, renters, and communities. They can provide an affordable housing option, generate rental income, increase property value, and help address the housing crisis. They also offer flexibility and versatility, allowing homeowners to use them as a home office, a guest house, or a multigenerational living space. Moreover, ADUs can promote sustainability and reduce carbon footprints by utilizing existing infrastructure and minimizing sprawl.

As we grapple with the housing affordability crisis, ADUs have emerged as a practical solution that can benefit everyone involved. Whether you’re a homeowner looking to generate extra income, a renter seeking affordable housing, or a policymaker working to address the housing crisis, ADUs are worth considering. With the right policies and incentives in place, ADUs can revolutionize how we think about housing and create more vibrant, sustainable, and inclusive communities.

“Through recent years, we’ve all been through a lot of change and isolation. We need to seriously consider a community-oriented way of living, and this movement most certainly supports that,” said Tannis.

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