How the Pandemic Fueled the ADU Boom in California

State laws have been increasingly easing restrictions on ADUs over the last few years, making them proliferate in L.A., San Francisco, and other cities across the country. 

Along with permits came the boom for backyard homes as a business in California. 

The number of permits for ADUs rises continuously, with over 12,000 backyard flats built only in 2019, more than double allowed just two years earlier. The majority of California jurisdictions (87%) have approved some kind of permit or regulation since 2017. 

This has reflected on the housing numbers of the past 4 years, approximately. Backyard flats account for a big share of the new housing built in California during the pandemic. 

The main benefit of ADUs, and possibly the reason they are such a huge deal in the present, is the fact that they are efficient, low-stress and fast to build. They even give homeowners a chance to increase property value and possibilities of long-term incomes. 

California homeowners were (and still are) innovating when it comes to construction. They are comfortable with the backyard home idea, and changing cities into a suburban form. Los Angeles is one of many cities that are facilitating this new type of construction, having launched an ADU Standard Plan Program to fast-track approvals. 

Restrictions relief arrived just before the pandemic, this can mean 2020 is not a year to consider as a reference, given lockdowns, economic uncertainty, among other issues for construction. However, many homeowners, desperate for office space, have increased their homes using an ADU during this time. Many single family homes are not designed for home office needs.

Moreover, isolation in assisted-living facilities could have been a cause for families to decide to bring the in-laws home faster. But the fact is, most ADUs continue to be built as rental housing. More than half of them serve as income generators. 

Some concerns about building an ADU are: financial, lack of interest, lack of awareness, physical site limitations, and disinterest in being a landlord. But for state and local governments, the main goal in escalating permits for backyard flats is to encourage affordable housing. ADUs are cheaper to build and cheaper to rent, and it is viable to think of it as the future of economical accommodation.