We discussed in a recent article the need to incrementally reduce parking in neighborhoods while incrementally increasing density in order to reduce driving and allow for more rooftops that support local businesses in communities, but we didn’t outline one of the most important tools available to help move the dial.
The answer lies in small structures that we created for decades in backyards across America: the Granny Flat. Quite simply, these tiny homes do far more than increase density for neighborhoods, they also provide much needed affordable housing options for young people fresh out of school, older people looking to scale down their living expenses, or temporary residences for visitors to an area who want to get more of a “local feel” for places they travel to.
Friends who recently updated their backyard granny flat regularly post the space on AirBnB.com which gives them an added boost to their income of approximately $700 a month. Not too bad for a young couple with a new baby who are looking for every opportunity to save or earn money that they can, given that daycare alone can be close to a mortgage in cost. They entertain guests from as far away as New Zealand who visit our small neighborhood retailers, sit in our outdoor cafes, and turn around and tell their friends to visit and follow their footsteps. This little space single-handedly provides a boost to a single household income, enhances neighborhood business economics, and acts as a one room convention and visitors bureau.
Other advantages are the added “eyes on the street” created by the additional people in the area which heightens a neighborhoods real and perceived sense of safety. Alleyways, which are common places for theft (through unseen rear access points), now have additional eyes protecting the area. Also, since these flats are nestled into historic neighborhoods with supportive commercial retail in close proximity, we see an uptick in bicycle ridership and pedestrian traffic as well. All major assets to increasing the sociability of places, whose byproduct is improved economics.
Lastly, people who hit hard times through loss of jobs, illness, or other unforeseen circumstances, have an option to move out of their larger front house, rent the space out, and still live on their small plot of land while they recoup and hopefully recover. Or if they grow old and can no longer manage a large household, they don’t have to be shipped out of their neighborhoods and sent to cold, and distant nursing homes at the fringes of society while they still have the ability to walk.
And sadly, this staple of American households has been mostly relegated to illegal status largely due to unfounded fears. The friends I noted above are technically not allowed to rent this space, even though it’s doing so much good for them and our neighborhood. Acknowledging that communities need smart density options like the granny flat to support local businesses and residents is a first step to building Better Blocks that can act as supportive neighborhood destinations for people to live, work, and play in.