The Missoula City Council’s consideration of allowing accessory dwelling unit housing in all Missoula zoning districts is controversial. Recently, the Missoulian, former City Councilman Clayton Floyd and former City Councilwoman Lyn Hellegaard have expressed opposition to expanding ADUs in these pages. As the originator of the proposal, I would like to respond.
So let’s get some facts straight.
What are ADUs?
Accessory dwelling units are fully equipped units with kitchens and bathrooms that are within a primary housing structure, such as a basement apartment, an attic apartment or another separate area within the primary residence, or in a detached structure on the same property of the primary residence. My proposal requires certain design standards regarding size and placement so the units conform to existing neighborhood structure. Also, the property owner must occupy the primary residence or the ADU.
Floyd’s objections center less on the perceived impacts of ADUs and more on the city growth policy and long-range transportation plan adopted through a comprehensive community process years ago. I believe the perceived impacts are dealt with through size limits, design criteria, parking requirements and homeowner occupancy requirements, and would like to stress that ADUs are accepted as appropriate housing options by such national organizations as AARP and the National Association of Realtors.
Why do we need ADUs?
The city is experiencing a very tight residential rental market and needs strategies to increase affordable housing supply, and the allowance of accessory dwelling units in all zoning districts is one of those strategies. The city’s policies and plans call for in-town development supported by a full range of transportation options including carpooling, biking, walking and transit. The zoning ordinance needs to conform to these policies and plans by promoting all residential strategies, such as ADUs, to fulfill the city’s housing mission.
ADUs offer financial relief to two groups of Missoulians who often struggle to afford housing. Elderly homeowners on a fixed income may benefit from supplementary income provided from rental of an ADU. They may also benefit by renting an ADU if they are “downsizing” their housing. Young couples may afford the purchase of a home if there is an ADU and subsequent supplementary income.
The Missoulian appears to ignore two points: The need for affordable housing for renters remains high after passage of the new zoning ordinance, and that the extremely tight rental market has not gone away during the recession. Missoula’s rental vacancy rate has hovered around 3 percent for many years, where the national average is somewhere between 6 percent to 10 percent, depending on the data source.
The litany of impacts expressed by Hellegaard runs from higher taxes to increased absentee ownership. In my view she plays on common fears, not providing any facts to back up her allegations.
Although I addressed Floyd’s concerns earlier in this article, I would like to point out that he no longer has a vote on Missoula issues, even as a citizen, since he has moved outside of Missoula.
Finally, the proposal is supported by agencies that provide affordable housing, knowing that all strategies must be in play to solve our housing problem, and the Associated Students of the University of Montana, knowing that relief from Missoula’s low rental vacancy rate is needed to make college attendance affordable.
As an advocate for affordable housing, a well-established growth policy that focuses development inward and a fuel-efficient transportation system, I am promoting the expansion of accessory dwelling unit zoning to all neighborhoods. (Currently they are allowed entirely or in substantial portions of multifamily-zoned neighborhoods such as downtown, the Northside, the Westside, Rose Park, Franklin to the Fort and Riverfront.)
As the discussion of ADUs continues in City Council this summer and into the fall, I will be weighing two considerations: balancing the right of homeowners to do with their property what they wish and the rights of the community, and the obligation of all neighborhoods to contribute to solving Missoula’s affordable housing problem.
The community may be assured that I will encourage a deliberative process in putting forth my proposal and adjust its elements to respond to community concerns.
Alex Taft is a Missoula city councilman representing Ward 3.