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Why Richmond may loosen rules on Accessory Dwelling Units

Why Richmond may loosen rules on Accessory Dwelling Units

Accessory Dwelling Units, or ADUs, have grown in popularity and become a point in the conversations nationally about increasing the housing supply.

An ADU is a small unit on the same property as a single-family residence. They can take different forms — detached or attached unit, converted garage, basement and more.

The Richmond City Council will meet on Sept. 18 to consider a proposed ordinance that would make it easier for a Richmond homeowner to add an accessory dwelling unit, permitting such structures “by right.”

Councilwoman Katherine Jordan said that allowing ADUs by right is “a proven strategy” for affordable housing and helping homeowners supplement their income. 

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Accessory dwelling unit

An accessory dwelling unit is a small unit on the same property as a single-family residence. They can take different forms — detached or attached unit, converted garage, basement and more.

“Through the Planning Department’s meetings, our District meetings, and individual outreach, residents have strongly expressed their support for ADUs,” Jordan said. “Where we have repeatedly heard concerns is the interplay between the ADU regulations and the rules on short-term rentals.”

She said she is planning on voting for the proposal but would like to see the short-term vote first.

City officials are trying to boost compliance among short-term rental properties that are operating without required permits.

State of Housing report shows how the Richmond area is becoming less affordable

RVA YIMBY, or “Yes In My BackYard,” is a group of Greater Richmond area residents who advocate for more affordable and abundant housing. 

It created a petition to ask the city of Richmond and the planning commission to pass the ordinance on accessory dwelling units without revisions to help alleviate the housing shortage and strengthen private property rights.

“Currently, a homeowner must go through a long and expensive public hearing process that allows neighbors to weigh in on what an owner can do with their private property,” the petition states.

 The group’s goal is to not have the ordinance “watered down” and to keep it by-right, as well as increasing housing of all kinds, keeping it in every residential district for renters and tenants ensuring long-term use, said YIMBY member Charles Yang.

Someone who is looking for housing in Richmond, under this ordinance, would be able to rent the unit, and the landlord would be the owner of the unit.

“I know there are different discussions about ways to modify (the ordinance) that that we think would restrict the availability of those ADUs to be rented out to tenants,” Yang said. “Obviously we wouldn’t support that because we ultimately want to increase the housing supply for people that live in Richmond.”

“I’m actually fairly optimistic that in this coming legislative session, we’ll see even more action,” Yang said.

On the state level, the tentative solutions to affordable housing in Virginia included bills referring to accessory dwelling units and affordable dwelling units.  All three in the House of Delegates died in this year’s session. 

Del. Angelia Williams Graves, D-Norfolk, a real estate broker, said she’s cautious when it comes to ADUs. 

“Do I think it could work? I do. But I am cautious for folks that don’t always have the financial resources but see an opportunity to make money and not be able to do proper maintenance upkeep,” Graves said.

She voted against defeating two measures on ADUs that ultimately died in the House Counties, Cities and Towns Committee.

One measure, from Del. Betsy Carr, D-Richmond, would have broadened authorization for any locality to amend its zoning ordinance to provide for an affordable housing dwelling unit program. A bill from Del. Sally Hudson, D-Charlottesville, would have established authority and requirements for localities in the development and use of accessory dwelling units.

Graves said ADUs for affordable housing look good on paper, but the reality could present more problems than solutions; such as the regulation of these units and asking the questions like whether someone has an extension cord running through the property or if they have enough money to start the project properly. 

Another factor is the additional density to the cities, she said. When looking at a city like Richmond, parking is already difficult to find without adding another residence, Graves said.

“I’m a real estate broker by profession, and some of the things that I see don’t always have to do with the cost of the unit, but it also has to do with how we help people earn more money,” Graves said.

Richmond Association of Realtors CEO Laura Lafayette said the association supports ADUs for more residential units on the ground, affordable options, and creating rental income. 

Richmond and Hanover County both currently require a special exemption permit to add an ADU, while New Kent County is the only jurisdiction that has them by right, according to the association’s guide.

Lafayette said the typical pushback is people not wanting more density in their neighborhood, creating more traffic and parking issues in the city.

“The fact that we have a busy vibrant city where people are living or visiting, and you got to drive around the block once or twice for parking — and get it, on a rainy day, that’s not the best thing that you want to do,” Lafayette said. “But ultimately, that’s a sign of vibrancy.”