To expand housing opportunities to households along the income spectrum, communities may find it beneficial to promote the production of smaller homes and apartments through the zoning code. Often, large minimum lot size or unit size requirements can exclude smaller house types and create communities that are unaffordable to many households. Reducing the lot size and/or the square footage of a unit can reduce the overall cost of development and help meet the needs of empty nesters, new families, single professionals and low- and moderate-income households. Changing regulations that hinder the development of smaller dwellings can allow for innovative design and greater housing choice.

Case Studies

Cottage Housing Ordinance (Kirkland, Wash.)

Kirkland, Wash., an affluent suburb located outside of Seattle, has undertaken multiple efforts to promote the development of more diverse and innovative housing types. Traditionally a single-family community with large homes, the city’s average household size has been decreasing steadily since the 1980s. In response to changing housing needs, the city passed an “Innovative Housing Demonstration Project Ordinance” in 2002. This ordinance allowed for the development of two cottage-style housing developments, including the 16-home Danielson Grove. The two developments were followed by a period of public evaluation, which found wide enthusiasm for this new home style.

In 2007, the city declared the demonstration project a success. Shortly thereafter, the city passed a Cottage Housing ordinance permitting cottage-style housing in all residential zones. The ordinance allows for subdivision developments of up to 24 cottage housing units and requires that one to two of these units be affordable to households earning between 82 and 100 percent area median income.

Most of the city’s cottages are designed as one or one-and-a-half story detached homes with the second story built into the pitch of the roof. Cottage subdivisions must include at least 400 square feet of open space per unit. Each cottage is typically built on a 3,000 square foot lot and is restricted to a maximum of 1,000 square feet of gross floor area. While these homes are often built with a traditional single-family design, they are much smaller than the typical single-family home (which, according to the 2010 Census, had a median size of 2,169 square feet).

Kirkland’s Cottage Housing Ordinance is primarily for the promotion of cottages, but also allows for other compact single-family homes, as well as duplexes and triplexes, in all single-family zones. Compact single-family homes are allowed up to 1,500 square feet, and duplexes and triplexes are limited to 1,200 square feet. Parking requirements have also been reduced for these housing types to one space per unit, unless the unit exceeds 1,000 square feet in gross floor area, in which case two spaces are required. Developers are also permitted to cluster parking on one section of the site.

Aside from the two demonstration projects permitted in 2002 and continued community support, however, there has yet to be large developer interest in cottage housing development in the city.

For More Info:

Arthur Sullivan, ARCH
Email: [email protected]

adAPT NYC (New York City)

New York City has been experimenting with innovative policies to meet changing housing needs and to mitigate increasing rents, which rose 11 percent between 2005 and 2012. There are currently 1.9 million one- and two-person households in the city, but only 1.25 million studio or one-bedroom apartments, according to the New York City Mayor’s Office.

In 2012, as part of the adAPT NYC Initiative—a program implemented to address these issues—the city requested proposals for a micro-unit development to be built on public land in Kips Bay, Manhattan. The city received 33 applications, one of the largest responses the city had ever received from a request for proposals. The winning design, Carmel Place, features 55 pre-built micro-units, each between 250 and 370 square feet in size. Because the development is being constructed on a city-owned site, the city was able to waive zoning restrictions that would have inhibited the micro-units’ construction, such as density limits, lot coverage maximums, setback restrictions and the previous minimum unit size of 400 square feet.

Carmel Place was constructed off-site in the spring of 2015 and then assembled at the Kips Bay site. About 40 percent of the units are classified as affordable, with 11 of the studios offered at $950 a month and four at $1,492 a month. The remaining, market rate units are to be rented at rates from $2,000 to $2,500 a month, which while still expensive for lower-income households is more affordable than the average Manhattan rent of approximately $4,300 for one-bedroom apartments and $3,000 for studios.

For More Info:

Monadnock Development LLC
Email: [email protected]

Micro-Unit Code Amendment (Austin, Texas)

Made popular by the nonprofit affordable housing developer Foundation Communities, micro-unit housing has been permitted in Austin for years due to the city’s relatively small minimum unit size requirement. In 2014, the city council amended the municipal zoning code to further reduce regulatory costs and barriers to smaller units, as well as to impose affordability requirements. These changes were prompted by developer concerns about density and parking restrictions, and by the city’s interest in increasing the affordable housing supply in downtown Austin and attracting more single adults to the city center.

The micro-unit code amendment reduces the parking and density requirements for dwelling units of 500 square feet or less if they meet the city’s affordability requirements. For owner-occupied units, developers are required to reserve 10 percent of units as affordable for households earning 80 percent of area median income (AMI), for no less than 99 years. For rental units, developers must reserve 10 percent of units as affordable for households earning 50 percent of AMI, for no less than 40 years. Developments that meet these requirements receive relief from zoning regulations; the minimum site area, which dictates allowed density for developments, is reduced to zero, while the minimum parking requirement is reduced to a ratio of .25 spaces per unit. Additionally, parking is required to be leased separately from the unit to allow for greater affordability and flexibility.

Two micro-unit developments have been permitted in the city since 2014. Capital Studios in downtown Austin will offer 135 micro-apartments with 100 percent of the units made affordable to individuals earning 50 percent of AMI. A more recent development of 260 micro-unit apartments, the first to be developed without public financial assistance, is set to be complete in 2016. While most units will be rented at market rate, 25 percent will be reserved as affordable to individuals earning 50 to 70 percent of AMI.

For More Info:

City of Austin Development Services Department
Email: [email protected]