January 2015 – More Roofs Over More Heads

Tony’s Terra Firma: By, Tony Shepley

What do “Aging in Place”, “Workforce Housing”, and “It’s Too Expensive To Live Here” all have in common? They all have a common solution….accessory housing, the right of a property owner to have an additional legal dwelling unit on an existing property. Whether it’s a room over the garage or a Mother-in-Law cottage out back, it just plain makes sense and solves multiple issues. For the college student, or the young professional just starting their career, or someone saving up for a deposit on their first house, we have a lot of people on the Cape and Islands who could really benefit from affordable market rate rentals.  That’s right, market rate. Give the market supply and it will adjust prices to meet demands.

Currently accessory housing regulations, in most towns, have very restrictive requirements such as all occupants must be related to each other. Let’s flip that around. Perhaps it’s time for junior to get out of the house and find a nest elsewhere and give Mom and Dad a break! Someone else’s family is often easier than your own. My recommendation is to require that one of the units in a house, with accessory housing, be owner occupied but skip the requirement that everyone be related. This opens up affordability and gives owners some financial help.

Aging in Place used to mean staying in the house you grew up in or raised your family in, with the kids taking over the lead role and caring for the parents  as the parents grew older. How about a modern version of that system to help with the fact that families have become more mobile and spread out? How about the potential of having a tenant in the accessory unit, who could not only help financially with rent contribution, but might also help with housekeeping for older landlords. Also, for our second homeowners, why not allow an accessory unit that could house a caretaker, to keep an eye on the place in the absence of the owner.

An ultimate Aging in Place flip could see the primary owner downsizing into the accessory unit and the younger tenant, now starting a family, moving into the primary residence as their need for space increases. Isn’t this the way it used to work?

Let’s face it, when we moved here, and most of us did, we were young and probably not able to own a house. We rented and it worked. What happened from then until now? Towns want to be able to control housing and frankly some towns enjoy low income housing subsidies and grants that they are scared of losing. Our home town, to my embarrassment, combs the classifieds looking for “illegal” apartments to shut down. Instead I would urge them to help people legalize accessory units and relax the requirements to allow sensible balance. Expanding accessory use under market rate conditions won’t hurt low income housing. It will increase the supply of market rate rentals and help moderate them. Do we condemn a resident to live in low income housing forever or do we give them a next step up?

Legal accessory housing will also increase the tax base for a town willing to embrace the concept instead of shunning it. If we’re serious about Aging in Place, sensible Workforce Housing, the cost of living, and the outward migration of our youth, expanded accessory housing is one answer that hits all points of the problem. When you have the chance, please help your town government understand the benefits of accessory housing.

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