Granny Flats May Solve Shortage of Affordable Housing in Colorado Springs
One of the greatest perks of homeownership is freedom. After investing in a home, the ability to make renovations, additions, and changes of any sort are lasting benefits at the end of the long-term investment tunnel. With this in mind, it’s no surprise that the building restrictions previously held in Colorado Springs had citizens irked. Accessory dwelling units, often referred to as ADUs or “granny flats,” are small living areas intended as a separate residence on the same grounds as a single-family home. These are often seen as apartments over garages, tiny homes in backyards, or renovated basement homes.
With today’s current climate, many people are heading to safer areas to spend quality time with their family as well as to help out with grocery shopping and other various tasks. Whether children are heading to their parent’s homes or vice versa, finding normalcy in these times is hard enough without having to navigate tossed-together living situations. Those who are fortunate enough to be able to afford the initial costs of a granny flat have been limited in the scenic town of Colorado Springs, as well as the entire state of Colorado.
Although the slang term “granny flat” implies that these accessory dwelling units are intended for an older crowd, perhaps in-laws or other family members would also benefit from living so close to others. If constructed with the appropriate necessities, they can be homes for someone of any age.
As Colorado Springs continues to see gentrification among their community, housing has become more limited and unaffordable. The extremely rapid growth of Colorado Springs has been somewhat of an obstacle when it comes to city officials planning accordingly. Making the list of Fastest-Growing Cities in America this past October, Colorado Springs has a steady growth rate of 1.38% annually, and their population has increased by 16.69% since just 2010. In addition to the accelerated growth, the city has a population density of 2,495 people per square mile. This density demonstrates the increasingly pressing issue of the lack of housing for citizens in the area. Once Colorado Springs made U.S. News & World Report’s list of Best Places to Live in the U.S., it was only a matter of time before newcomers caught on. In addition to the slew of new citizens moving to Colorado Springs, those Coloradans taking note of the vast improvements made in Colorado’s 2nd largest city are fleeing overpopulated Denver to settle into a slightly quainter atmosphere.
This housing crisis isn’t slowing down at any rate, which has resulted in citizens and officials considering “gentle density” — attached, ground-oriented housing. Gentle density gets the name due to the minimal impact it has on an established community. As Smarter Growth explains the end goal of housing projects that fall under that umbrella, “is to offer a solution that satisfies population growth while recognizing the criticism and often-outright refusal of homeowners to allow development or redevelopment in their communities.”
The concerns raised by residents are valid, although, in the end, gentle density could revitalize the very same qualities that homeowners fear they will lose, such as property values and the conventional atmosphere of a single-family home neighborhood. By allowing the addition of accessory dwelling units, the community is opening its doors to newer, potentially younger families who will contribute to the economy and local tax base, while simultaneously offering additional affordable housing options for pre-existing Colorado Springs residents who can’t find fairly priced homes. Another factor to keep in mind when it comes to accessory dwelling units is where the additional money swirling in the city’s economy will go — to homeowners, as opposed to newly constructed luxury condo developers’ pockets. The housing payments made on these units will be building wealth for homeowners in the area while simultaneously creating more affordable rental housing.
The debate over whether accessory dwelling units are a beneficial addition to a community, or not, has been ongoing for some time now, especially in the state of Colorado. For example, as of November 2019, Denver only allowed the construction of these units in around a quarter of single-family neighborhoods. The pushback comes from a variety of places, but ultimately the city council must enact a bill for their plan to allow ADUs citywide to move forward. Denver city planning supervisor, Kyle Dalton, explains that while they wait for that long process, “the program recommends — and we are seeing — individuals coming in, one at a time, to have a rezoning process to move that forward while the city is finishing up other priorities before we’re able to get that project started.”
The popularity of accessory dwelling units is becoming apparent over the years as many cities’ population growth increases. In populated Denver, only two units passed the permitting process back in 2010, but in 2018, as many as 58 ADUs made it through the system. Other cities are following suit, such as Englewood, which may have the most restrictive building regulations when it comes to granny flats in the state, but it is still a generous stepping-stone in the right direction.
Colorado Springs is officially paving the way for other cities in the state, as their city council has been toying with a plan that would permit accessory units to be built on a plethora of residential grounds in the city. When the conversation regarding accessory dwelling units was brought up amongst Colorado Springs citizens last year, a good amount of council members were concerned that the ample amount of potential ADUs that could be built on single-family lots — upwards of 68,000 — would cause similar concerns as other residents in the city and state as a whole; population growth, increased traffic, etc. Although, after over a year of considering, the city has moved forward with the proposal after some revision.
The updated proposal will allow homeowners in single-family neighborhoods to build granny flats for renters, older parents, and adult children. Whoever lives in the home and secondary unit will have to meet the city’s definition of a family, which includes “residents who are related and a group of not more than five unrelated people.” There are some additional caveats, such as a conditional-use permitting process involving neighbors’ perspective as well as the requirement that homeowners building an ADU must live on the property six months out of the year. “This is not a carte blanche,” as councilman Don Knight says. These caveats are a small price to pay for a big step towards the future of Colorado Springs. After reviewing the new ADU proposal on April 30th and hearing from around eight residents on both sides of the debate, Colorado Springs Planning Commission unanimously approved the three draft ordinances with limited discussion.
As Colorado Springs moves forward with the approval for ADU construction and the support of gentle density, will other cities in the state — and the nation — begin to jump on the bandwagon? As Don Knight shares, “We are going to be able to handle the new challenges that are coming, while still protecting the integrity of single-family residences.” If this mindset is streamlined across other councils, large metropolises may be able to curb the unaffordable housing market while gaining approval from long-time residents.
By allowing accessory dwelling units, city councils are in turn allowing mixed-income housing, which will provide homes for many, while highlighting and focusing on poverty and low-wage issues, all in one fell swoop.