Realtor.com quoted me in Could Fonzie Solve America’s Housing Shortage? It opens,
Call me old-fashioned, but in my heart of hearts, Fonzie from the 1970s TV show “Happy Days” is still the epitome of cool. That leather jacket. The shades. Those thumbs!
He may also be the solution to America’s housing shortage.
As you may recall, Fonzie lived above the Cunninghams’ garage—offbeat living quarters that are making a big comeback today thanks to BIMBY, short for “builder in my back yard.” BIMBYs carve out small, bootleg homes on their property by renovating work sheds, upgrading floors over garages, or raising new structures from scratch.
BIMBYs typically create these dwellings for aging parents (thus their not-so-sexy nickname “granny flats”), or to rent out to college students who can’t afford traditional apartments. Their renaissance is due to plain old necessity: Housing is just too damn expensive. A BIMBY home, though modest, is a deal for both tenants and cash-strapped homeowners. It’s a win-win scenario for Cunninghams and Fonzies alike!
That’s why Logan Jenkins, a journalist for the San Diego Tribune, recently suggested the BIMBY resurgence could fill a desperate need for affordable housing in areas where the cost of living on new homes and rentals has spiraled way out of control.
“If 10% of the homeowners in San Diego County added 450 square feet of separate living space to their properties, the affordable housing crisis would be largely over,” Jenkins argued.
And far from dragging down the neighborhood with riffraff, such housing “enables a neighborhood to maintain diversity that otherwise would be lost in a hot housing market,” according to Larry Ford, a geographer and author of “The Spaces Between Buildings.” After all, wasn’t Fonzie the life of the party?
This may explain why certain cities are embracing BIMBYs with open arms. Portland has changed its local laws to forgive their developer fees. Santa Cruz offers pre-approved architectural plans, loans, and fee waivers to what it calls “accessory dwelling units,” or ADUs, spurring a fourfold increase in applications. And other local governments are following suit.
“ADUs could make a big impact in curing housing issues in many locations,” says John Lavey with Community Builders, a nonprofit that has studied the trend, “especially in desirable locations such as Bozeman, Montana, where I’m located, where housing and rent costs exceed national averages. And for millennials seeking walkability and neighborhood authenticity, these ADUs are in high demand.”
But not all communities are automatically lining up to accept these BIMBY newcomers.
“Zoning limitations on accessory units were adopted by lots of local planning boards that were consciously rejecting them for their communities,” says David Reiss, research director at the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship at Brooklyn Law School. To change the regulations, BIMBY advocates would need to go head to head against the NIMBY (“not in my back yard”) crowd, who argue that an influx of Fonzies could drive down property values.