California’s high home prices continue to be fueled by low inventory and high demand. Homebuyers know the solution to these opposing forces is more housing. But the obstacles of strict zoning and political opposition to change make increasing construction easier said than done.

Insufficient construction has long been at the root of California’s housing shortage. But homebuyers and homeowners believe the solution lies with the construction of accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in residential neighborhoods, according to a 2022 Zillow survey of U.S. homeowners and renters.

An ADU is a secondary, self-contained housing unit located on a single family residential (SFR) lot. They may be attached or unattached from the existing property and are also known as casitas or granny flats.

The survey respondents showed a clear support for ADU construction, with:

  • 69% of respondents in support of ADU construction; and
  • 31% of respondents opposed or indifferent.

Respondents who are in support of ADU construction believe ADUs will create more housing. In fact, 76% of renters — who are more likely to be in search of housing — support ADU construction, compared to 66% of homeowners.

California residents are even more likely to support ADU construction, including:

The support for ADU construction is high, but will it translate to greater construction?

The benefits of building ADUs

With the overwhelming favor for ADU construction in California, it’s easy to see the benefits, which:

  • provide a source of income for homeowners who choose to rent out their units;
  • allow extended family such as seniors or adult children to live on the same property but have their own space; and
  • increase property values.

Further, the creation of lower cost housing will slow California’s rapid pace of home price increases, including rents.

But the biggest barrier to ADU construction is a familiar culprit: restrictive zoning policies. The main way to create more construction is to loosen zoning rules.

Restrictive zoning has held back residential construction throughout the years through:

  • land use regulations;
  • parking restrictions;
  • lot sizes;
  • height restrictions; and
  • permitting costs and times.

Not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) advocates are in favor of restrictive zoning and limiting ADU construction. These NIMBY advocates have long been on the winning side of the issue, but things are starting to change in California.

California legislators are attacking the state’s lack of housing on several fronts. One of those solutions recently took effect in the form of a new law on January 1, 2022. Senate Bill (SB) 9 enables any SFR to add an ADU and is a major part of the state’s Building Opportunities for All housing package. This eases the process for homeowners to subdivide their SFR lot.

However, NIMBYs are attempting to sidestep the SFR zoning ban and limit new development. Without the cooperation of local governments with both the law and clear support from their residents, the housing shortage will continue.

To stay informed of how your community is tackling the housing shortage, keep up to date with how your local government is approaching zoning changes. Or if you want to be a more active participant, you can attend a local city council meeting and be a part of the change you seek.

Without enough housing to meet demand, your real estate career is in jeopardy. Sufficient housing and stable prices are essential for a healthy sales volume, necessary for a reliable income stream.