City Council considers accessory dwelling units for housing relief

City Council considers accessory dwelling units for housing relief

Thanks in part to soaring inflation and a spike in demand exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the rising cost of housing in Jacksonville has left many residents in a tight spot.

According to a recent study from researchers at Florida Atlantic University and Florida International University, the Jacksonville housing market is currently overpriced by nearly 46 percent — the 25th highest percentage in the nation.

However, as additional research from FAU, the University of Alabama and Florida Gulf Coast University indicates that rent increases are on track to slow considerably over the next year, relief may be on the horizon. But with no definitive answer as to how soon that relief will be felt, the question, for many, is what can be done right now?

“We have a housing crisis,” local resident Cindy Funkhouser noted at an Aug. 9 meeting of the Jacksonville City Council. “In order to address a crisis, we need tools and we need solutions.”

One potential solution currently being considered by the City Council is the Keep Our Families Together Act, which would allow for the construction of “accessory dwelling units” in the backyards of existing single-family homes.

As defined by the Florida Statutes, an accessory dwelling unit, or ADU, is “an ancillary or secondary living unit that has a separate kitchen, bathroom, and sleeping area existing either within the same structure, or on the same lot, as the primary dwelling unit.” These can include such structures as tiny homes, carriage houses, garage apartments or mother-in-law suites.

Under the proposed legislation, ADUs would be permitted, provided that they adhere to specific criteria, including that the unit be located behind a “conforming single-family dwelling” and possess a visual relationship to the primary residence, in addition to following other codes and regulations. The property owner would also be required to live inside the primary structure as opposed to inside the ADU or elsewhere.

At the Aug. 9 meeting, Funkhouser was one of a few attendees to share her thoughts on the bill, stating that she believed it was a good alternative for those with family members who either cannot afford their own home or cannot live on their own due to health concerns.

“This is one other solution in the toolbox,” she said. “And considering the crisis we’re in, I don’t think any of us can afford to not be very serious about bringing solutions into the toolbox.”

Like Funkhouser, Tim Smith said he was in favor of the bill, noting, “People are going to move here to this city whether we have additional housing units or not — that’s the real problem that we’re having.”

Adding that his family of five could personally benefit from the additional space that an ADU would provide, Smith said he believed the bill had a universal appeal.

“What I love about this bill is that it’s something that everyone can get behind, both on the political right and left,” he said. “The right wants limited government. This increases actual liberty and the right to property. And the left really cares about marginalized peoples, and this helps — basic economics — lower the price of rent because it increases the supply.”

Nevertheless, the bill is not without its detractors. Duchy Stevens, for instance, said she would prefer to see more houses like those built by Habitat for Humanity as opposed to tiny houses in the backyards of existing homes.

“That’s not what backyards are made for,” she contended.

And Councilman Matt Carlucci, while expressing support for the overall concept, warned that the addition of such structures could potentially create an insurance headache for homeowners.

“If people build these auxiliary buildings … there will be limitations from their homeowner’s insurance as to how much will apply in terms of coverage to the auxiliary building,” he noted. “And if it’s rented out to a tenant that’s not a relative, there may be no coverage at all.”

With the introducer of the bill, Councilman Rory Diamond, out of town for military training, committee discussions have been temporarily placed on hold until his return. When conversations resume, Resident Community News will provide a comprehensive update.

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