By Mark Jeffreys
Cincinnati City Council
Living in a neighborhood with kids, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins creates a strong community that is resilient and frankly, more fun. For many reasons, we don’t see neighborhoods like this nearly as often as we used to.
Neighborhoods change, and people who want to stay often can’t afford it or don’t have enough viable housing options. No one thing will solve this, but luckily there is one tool in the toolbox that Cincinnati has yet to use: accessory dwelling units.
Accessory dwelling units (ADUs) are smaller units of housing that can be built on the same lot as an existing single-family home. They are often called “granny flats” or “secondary units.” They can take different shapes, but often they are created by renting out space in or above a garage or in the basement of a house.
Currently ADUs are illegal to build in Cincinnati, but they haven’t always been, and they shouldn’t be today. Thankfully, Cincinnati City Council is considering making them legal, which has multiple benefits.
First, ADUs provide a unique opportunity for older residents to “age in place” — staying in their neighborhood as they get older. When the kids move out and a larger house becomes unnecessary, an ADU can be an attractive alternative to a senior living facility. They are often affordable and are closer to the friends and family who support us as we age.
Another benefit of ADUs is that they allow homeowners to build wealth in their own homes. For example, by renting out a basement unit, homeowners can build more equity and wealth in their own home.
For some communities, this can mean combatting displacement. Legacy residents can use accessory dwelling units as a means to help pay off their mortgages and rising property taxes in order to stay in their neighborhood.
We all stand to benefit when homeowners who want to stay in their neighborhood can choose to do so.
Finally, ADUs are a simple way to get more people in homes at a time when we have a housing crisis with costs going up and not enough supply. In each of the past two years, Cincinnati added about 2,000 residents but gained only about 500 units of housing. That’s part of what’s driving up prices for everyone. Because ADUs tend to be smaller in size, they are naturally more affordable.
Making accessory dwelling units legal is not a new concept. It is a tried-and-true policy that helps keep people in their neighborhood, ensures older folks can age in place and allows homeowners to build more wealth in one of their most valuable assets − their own homes. Legalizing ADUs will strengthen families, communities and neighborhoods. It’s past time that we made them legal in Cincinnati.
Cincinnati Councilman Mark Jeffreys serves on the Equitable Growth and Housing Committee. Sandra Jones Mitchell is executive director of Serving Older Adults Through Changing Times.
Editor’s note: The views expressed in this commentary piece do not necessarily express the opinions of The Cincinnati Herald.