Affordable Housing That Might Have Been

20 thoughts on “Affordable Housing That Might Have Been”

  1. This used to be allowed elsewhere. While living in Albuquerque during the 80s, not unusual to see renters living in converted garages or chicken coops (separate from the main house) about the size you mentioned. Very cozy. But it worked.

    Speaking of absurd rules, an HOA in California, after bad publicity, rescinded a rule requiring garage doors be left open on weekdays (or be fined), because a few were used as living spaces. In some ways, HOAs can be even more dictatorial and less accountable than governments.

  2. Glad to have stumbled upon your blog. Pretty interesting insights. Before reading your posts, I was unaware of all the building and home loan restrictions in the U.S. It’s pretty crazy!

  3. Just curious if you agree that even though people in SoCo say they want affordable housing they actually don’t. Isn’t there an effectively infinite number of people who want to move her, such that no number of tiny homes would be enough, at least until the population got high enough to make it a place people don’t wan to live in? Don’t people just want affordable housing in SoCo for heir friends and family members, not for everyone who might want to live here? That’s the real issue.

    1. Yes. And no…

      If you picture the 1950’s version of Los Angeles with tidy tract homes with front lawns, back yard swimming pools, and orange trees then there’s a hard physical limit to how many people can be packed in to city. Ideally (according to the people who like this sort of thing) LA should have sealed its borders sometime around 1970 and preserved everything in amber. If you want to see what that’s like try Marin, Sonoma, and Napa Counties. That comes with some serious economic side effects since demand is infinite, but very little new construction is permitted. New people can’t move in because there’s no place for them to live. That’s great if you already own property, but not so good for the local school principal who can’t retain teachers because they can’t afford a $1.3M bungalow or a $2,400 a month apartment – if they could even find a vacancy.

      Instead LA pushed outward in every direction with more tract homes from Camp Pendleton to Valencia to Palmdale. I’m amazed at how previously “unbuildable” locations are now getting covered over with tightly packed (yet still fully detached) single family homes on cul-de-sacs on the rocky hillsides of Santa Clarita and the outer reaches of San Bernardino. LA wants to keep expanding endlessly in a horizontal fashion, yet residents lament the traffic congestion and ever decreasing open space this land use pattern brings with it.

      The alternative is to use the land more intensively in an urban format. Ditch the cars, ramp up walkable and bikeable public spaces, radically improve mass transit, and build up. But LA isn’t entirely comfortable with that model so it’s at war with itself as it staggers forward – uncomfortably.

      What you’re getting at is the Good Party/Bad Party theory of urbanism. A good party gets better as more people arrive because they bringing more food, more booze, more conversation, more talent, and so on. Manhattan, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Paris, Shanghai, and London are all good parties. People go there to be surrounded by other people and all the economic and cultural opportunities on offer.

      In a bad party each new person who shows up make things worse because they eat and drink everything the host has on offered without contributing much and not all the guests are well behaved or pleasant. Most suburban cities are Bad Parties. The more they grow the less quiet, green, and tranquil they become. Yet they’re still dead boring because people move there to escape the mad crush of humanity and outlaw most of the things that would make them more fun and productive.

      The trouble with Los Angeles is that it’s currently in an awkward adolescent stage halfway between the suburban city model and the urban city model.

  4. I love this and some of the ideas floated in the comments and am discouraged to hear you had so much trouble. I still want to buy land & pursue something in the SoCal Southbay. We have half a million homeless in Los Angeles now. Shameful and totally unnecessary!

  5. So many large vacant lots in and around Sacramento. Perfect for a courtyard style tiny house community. But it only addresses a small number of the low income workers who it may benefit. In most cases, each worker equals one car. No where to put them unless you dedicate 40% of the space to parking. Sacramento supposedly has a reasonable transit system, but not in practice. As I have ridden, it mostly seems to shuffle people around who aren’t really going anywhere. New management just hired to change that, we will see.
    Of course the street car line that served downtown was torn up 60 years ago.

  6. Thanks Johnny! Fantastic post. I’m fantasizing about a shed village. A house on rural land would be the “legal structure”. Multiple sheds could be arranged in a lane mimicking a small village for artist studios, artisanal crafters, or cyber space programmers. Ludicrous idea ready for land use bitch slap? Or a way to add urbanity to the rural transect as professed by new urbanists.

    1. Totally illegal in most jurisdictions. I wouldn’t even try this route unless you want to spent years and a lot of money fighting City Hall and getting sued by NIMBYs. I recommend a different approach. If you can afford the land and a cluster of small sheds perhaps you can afford a small poorly aging existing structure that’s already legal instead. An old 1950’s motel on the side of a rural county road for example. It’s ready made for multiple occupancy. The more economically depressed and remote the location, the cheaper and easier it will be.

  7. I might add in most cities and counties eagerly court retailers (even in the era of internet destruction of brick and mortar retail) for the sales tax dollars. I wonder where the minimum wage employees are supposed to live.

  8. After reading how protective zoning restricts small, affordable housing I’ve come to realize there is no liberal or conservative safe harbor to dock my views in.

    Like you I’ve seen the vast expanses of aged asphalt parking lots and wondered why they could not be torn up and planted with small houses around a common garden that might also have a communal dining area.

    The idea that thousands of Californians live under overpasses, while other Golden State billionaires, made rich by apps of animated games, float above suffering, on clouds of money, is appalling.

    There isn’t just inequity here. There is indifference and something sadistic at work. And it hides behind zoning and laws that proscribe codes for structures that end up punishing humans.

  9. Very interesting. You are a smart and funny guy. I am always amused by these tales from California; they always astound me, and I am from NYS, where things aren’t super easy either. I enjoy listening to Adam Corrola’s podcasts (there was a NYT article about him some years back titled something like “Adam Corrola Actually Has Taste” about his sensitive restoration of a 1920s Spanish Colonial in LA. Anyhow, he is famous for his funny “Rage Against the Machine” rants and in one he goes into excruciating detail about the challenges someone he knew faced in trying to put in a garage in I think Toponga Canyon and how the thing could essentially survive nuclear war and would a FAR safer place than any of the actual residences nearby, with all attendant costs, as well.

  10. This is all so true. My coworker inherited a used RV and got priced out of the RV park he was living in ($600 a month, utilities included). He and his girlfriend got an offer from their homeowner friends to park it in their sideyard and swiftly got a fine from the City (neighbor complaint driven) that in order to legally park there, there needed to be a concrete slab under the RV and the coworker and his girlfriend were only allowed to “recreate” in the RV. So, they had to prove that they were living in the main house and not the RV. No wonder the homeless population is skyrocketing.

    1. Illegal. I checked. Or to be completely clear, there are incinerating toilets that run on propane that are designed for boats and off grid cabins that are legal (sort of) but that doesn’t address the sink and shower waste water which still needs to go down the sewer. If it’s affordable and simple… it’s forbidden – one way or another.

  11. I admire the way you always find a smart solution to whatever obstacle that is set in front of you that’s what attracted me to your blog I fell in love with the tiny house you built in Hawaii.

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