It’s hard to be a resident of Los Angeles who follows the news and not be exposed to numerous stories about a shortage of vacant apartments. My observation is that both current City officials and those who hope to be City officials after the next election lament the lack of enough housing. I’ve read various proposals to address this issue.
One solution that actually made its way into law, prompted by efforts at the State level, is to allow property owners to build Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU’s). The law allows for ADU construction, within a series of constraints, on both single-family and multi-unit zoned properties. The law codifies construction rules, including those related to parking, making it possible to convert a two car garage into an ADU without having to replace the parking. What you cannot do, however, is keep the parking in the garage and build the ADU over the garage because the legal height limit is 16’. My friends who are contractors or engineers tell me a minimum of 18’ is required to build a residential space over a garage.
Personally, I would like to build an ADU in a multi-family zoned location. I want to keep garage parking because I don’t want to put more cars on the street, and I want to create additional housing. I can’t because the City prohibits me from doing so because I need two feet above the height limit. If the height limit were increased to 18’ (or more if a pitched roof was cosmetically a better choice), then I would be able to add housing in a city whose officials repeatedly state there is a housing shortage.
My efforts to find out the logic or history of the 16 foot height limit have gotten nowhere. The two most common responses I get are “I don’t know” or “That’s what’s in the State Law.” I’ve not heard a single reason why the 16’ height limit is in place other than that it’s there to intentionally limit the number of units that can be constructed. It’s taken decades for City Hall officials to claim that Los Angeles lacks available housing. Critics claim there are numerous barriers to construction, so it doesn’t surprise me to hear conjecture that a rule could be in place specifically to limit the number of units that could be built.
I frequently read articles that assail developers and complain about the lack of “in fill” units in residential neighborhoods. When a development is proposed, I see protests, and I hear about lawsuits, but I’ve never heard of an ADU protest. I have no way of quantifying how many additional housing units could be constructed if the City increased the allowable height by two feet. It does seem to me that it would be a lot easier, faster, cheaper and less controversial if, for example 1000 “Mom and Pop” property owners scattered throughout the City, each built one or two units, as opposed to developers building a few large developments to create the same amount of housing.
Increasing the height limit by two feet just seems like common sense.
I urge all existing City officials to quickly add another option to the list of potential solutions to the housing shortage by increasing the height limit for ADU construction by at least two feet. I urge all those who hope to become City officials in the next election to support this commonsense measure.
So I repeat the question, could two more feet help alleviate the housing shortage? I think the commonsense answer is “yes.”
(Joshua Blacker, Ph.D. a musician who spent 35 years in the sales and marketing of electronic keyboards and Pro Audio equipment now manages his real estate investments that he purchased during that time with the hope of retiring on more than just Social Security. Joshua is a guest columnist for CityWatch.)