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BBC – Capital – Garages – the new affordable homes?

Would you ever install your home in someone else's garage? Or let a stranger enter yours?

More and more people are asking, "Why not?

Let's see how difficult it is for people to afford housing in big cities. From Berlin to Singapore via Stockholm, rents have skyrocketed. And do not forget to buy: last year's research showed that 40% of young adults in England, for example, can not afford to buy even the cheapest homes in their area, even with a deposit 10%.

Could living in a converted garage be an answer?

May be. In parts of the United States, the lack of affordable housing means garage conversions are taking off, especially in the United States. In Los Angeles, for example, focused on the automobile, 117 garage conversion permits were issued to residents in 2016 – but in 2018, thanks to a change in the law, that number climbed to 4,171.

In Los Angeles, 117 garage conversion permits were issued to residents in 2016 – but by 2018, that number has risen to 4,171

These garages could represent a lot more than the possibility of additional income for homeowners. Supporters say they could help solve the housing problems of cities and even fight homelessness.

"Essentially invisible"

In an article published in April by CityLab, three urban planning experts explained how single-family garages could ease the housing crisis in California. They pointed out how the number of garage conversions had exploded in Los Angeles – a city full of garages.

"Is this an opportunity to swap cars for people?" Asks Anne Brown, assistant professor at the University of Oregon and co-author of the CityLab article. "What's really interesting is that this type of housing is essentially invisible: the built environment [of the neighbourhood] will not be so different. "

In other words: it's a way to house more people without having to build more houses.

So who lives in these garages? Boomerang children, elderly parents who need care, Airbnb guests. And this change is not limited to converted garages. Backyard cottages, reused garden huts, these famous semi-detached houses – they are all known as UDAs, or accessory dwellings. In the UK they are sometimes referred to as "grannies" or "annexes", in reference to the intergenerational nature of these units: today's tool shed can be your pied-à-terre of tomorrow.

The potential of a garage

Cherry Tung is a Los Angeles-based YouTuber who found her garage converted into a Chinese version of Craigslist. She explains that the main reason she chose this award is her price: her rent is $ 950 per month, compared to $ 2,000 more typical in her area. It has a kitchen, a bathroom and a wall that separates the living room and bedrooms.

"It's really decent. I have enough room for me and two cats. It's relatively quiet, cheap, no neighbors upstairs and a separate entrance from my owner, "says Tung. "Garage rental situations are quite common on the Chinese Craigslist."

Today's tool shed can be the pied-à-terre of your big tomorrow

She believes that garages can help solve the problem of affordable housing, but says that "the legality of housing can be quite delicate and risky, depending on local laws and regulations."

It's something that Ira Belgrade, another resident of Los Angeles, knows too well. He and his wife ran their own art agency in Hollywood. But after the death of his wife 10 years ago, Belgrade collected the rent from its converted garage, now a two-storey house, as an additional source of income.

"Everything has collapsed in my life. I had a two and a half year old son and I needed my mortgage, "he says. "If I could convert everything [garage], make a kitchen, I could rent everything. The city said no. But he did it anyway. Four years after successfully renting (but illegally) finite space to a tenant found on Craigslist, an anonymous neighbor reported the activity to the city authorities.

Belgrade has become one of the most virulent lawyers in the city to help get ADU clearances. This law was finally passed in 2017, as a result of a state-wide law, which led to this increase in permits in Los Angeles. Now, not only does Belgrade continue to lease its converted garage, but it runs its own business that helps others navigate the legal waters of building an ADU.

Since the law changed in 2017, Los Angeles has "seen an increase of more than 1,000% in the number of permits required by homeowners to build both new construction UDAs and to convert existing structures – garages and homes pool, for example – in UAD, "says Alex Comisar, press officer of Eric Garcetti, Mayor of Los Angeles.

Los Angeles is not the only city on the west coast to experience an upward trend. Portland and Seattle, respectively in the US states of Oregon and Oregon, have also given priority to the development of ADU. In addition, approximately 200 km to the north is another world leader: Vancouver, in the Canadian province of British Columbia. (And yes, you guessed it – rents in all three cities have steadily increased over the past two years.)

Vancouver versions of converted garages are called "corridor houses": small units, but still around 700 to 1,000 square feet – enough for a studio, a bedroom and a bathroom. They are built on the vast network of the city, consisting of very small side streets (corridors) that snake between houses. The city said that in the last 10 years, more than 4,000 new corridor homes have been built and that it hopes to create another 4,000 in the next 10 years.

The city said that in the last 10 years, more than 4,000 new corridor homes have been built and that it hopes to create 4,000 in the next 10 years.

"Even though we've been building homes on alleys for a decade, there has been a fairly strong recovery," said Graham Anderson, an urban planner for the City of Vancouver. "It adds a new housing choice – a soft form of new density that does not result in mass redevelopment."

While demand for affordable housing is more important than ever – a survey conducted in 2018 found that 90% of the 200 cities surveyed were considered unaffordable – these cities have relaxed existing planning laws. In Los Angeles, there were more than 50,000 illegally exploited UDAs of all types by 2016, an informal market that signaled the need.

UDAs are becoming more and more the norm in Vancouver. The city claims that 75 percent of the city's new single-family homes, or about 800 per year, are already built with a corridor house or some kind of secondary housing. For city planners, it is a dazzling signal, and cities should do the same. We have "potential homes at your fingertips. It's a very easy-going fruit, "says Brown. "And we should catch him."

Help roaming?

In addition to adding to the entire housing stock, could UDA help fight homelessness? The hope.

Los Angeles County has seen a 12% increase in homelessness since last year and the city itself has seen a 16% increase. Nearly 60,000 people in the county were sleeping on the street during a January count, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority reported.

Last October, a large philanthropy company donated $ 1 million to Los Angeles to help Angelenos turn their garages into housing for this purpose as part of a new pilot program. (The deployment was not perfect, however – issues such as the location of power lines denied building permits to some residents.)

"We thought it was a great way to add to the many strategies we have to try to end homelessness in Los Angeles in order to connect the people who build these units with those who come out of the street," said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. in an interview on the radio in October.

Press Secretary Comisar said that "homeowners will be part of the solution to end homelessness, and will benefit from stable rental income and a greater net worth of the home". The goal of LA by 2022 is to house at least 200 people in housing insecurity in nearly 150 DSUs. "

Californian researchers also point to additional benefits: More surveillance zones in the neighborhood could enhance the security of the area and an additional revenue stream for the tenant: "I have friends [in LA] who moved into the garage and rented the house herself, "says Brown.

So what did this old California law require? That every single family home has two covered parking spaces in the street. But not more.

Donald Shoup, a professor of urban planning at the University of California at Los Angeles, who worked on the garage project with Anne Brown, estimates that converting a garage into an apartment costs around $ 80,000. Prior to the relaxation of California laws, many of these illegal conversions led to fires, as the buildings did not necessarily meet city standards. Now, relaxed licenses allow residents to do so more securely (and legally).

But would it work in other countries?

Sending elsewhere

Places like LA or Vancouver have features that could make the plan difficult to transfer beyond the North American West Coast, just like the car-centric nature of these cities. But for all major cities thriving at the wheel, garage ADUs could have a significant impact on urban planning in the future. As a result, regions outside of North America, such as New Zealand, have recently begun to look at the potential of DSUs in their cities. (Although, in the case of New Zealand, living in garages was a disturbing symptom of the housing crisis rather than a solution.)

"There is this broader idea of ​​planning – especially in an automotive-centric place – planning is too needs-driven in the way we park our cars, what happens to them," Vinit says. Mukhija, professor of urban planning at UCLA, who collaborated with Shoup and Brown. "It takes over, increases housing costs, becomes the driving force – everything starts to be driven by this factor alone. We hope to change that. We do not need to provide as much off-street parking. "

Instead, people can park their cars in their driveways and turn their garages – their homes for their cars – into homes for their occupants. Especially those who can not afford all kind of house.

Shoup thinks that the more cities find ways to house people in already existing structures (such as garages) and facilitate the issuance of permits for conversion and rental of premises, the better the cities will be favored.

It could take the form of basements in New York, says Shoup. For example, a configuration may be a "richer family and a young low-income renter, especially near universities. This allows for more diversity in a single-family neighborhood – people who otherwise would not have the means to live in a good neighborhood. "

If numbers are an indication, garage conversions are becoming more mainstream. This could change the way we plan cities and help us host everyone who lives there.

"It's a good thing," says Shoup. "To say that we have spent so many years building a city around cars, we can now do more around people."

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