Much "ADU" About a Lot: How Social Relations Influence the Affordability of Accessory Dwelling Units in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
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This research examines Detached Accessory Dwelling Units (DADUs) in Edmonton, Alberta. In Edmonton, these types of units are referred to as Garage/Garden Suites, however, in other municipalities they go by a variety of names including: Laneway Homes, Granny Flats, Carriage Homes, or Secondary Suites. It has been suggested that ADUs offer a number of social, environmental, and economic benefits, and a number of municipalities across North America are beginning to promote them as a form of private sector affordable housing. As such, several cities have relaxed zoning restrictions to allow for ADUs on most residential lots. Edmonton was chosen for this study in part because of its recently relaxed zoning restrictions. It is also a city of interest because of the exponential growth of Garage/Garden Suites Edmonton has experienced over the past 10 years. This research examines Garage/Garden Suites in Edmonton from an affordable housing perspective and establishes the first comprehensive dataset on Garage/Garden Suites in Edmonton. While this research gathered data on suite use, occupancy, construction, and demographics, it focuses on a concept called “voluntary affordability” whereby owners of the Garage/Garden Suite willingly charge low to ultra-low rent. For this research, all 122 Garage/Garden Suite owners in Edmonton were contacted and asked to participate in a 34-question survey about their suite, of which 72 completed the surveys. In total, it was found that 36% of suites were rented to family at an average rent of $504, 52% were rented to people the owners did not know at an average rent of $1,154, and 12% were rented to friends at an average rent of $1,225. By looking at suites that were rented at zero- and very-low-rent it was found that 25% of Edmonton’s Garage/Garden Suites are <$700/month, which are considered affordable rents in Edmonton by many definitions. 89% of the occupants of these free-or-clearly-below-market rentals are family members of the owner, thus demonstrating the role social relationships play in facilitating voluntary affordability. When looking at who is building Garage/Garden Suites, 72% of respondents have a household income greater than $100,000, suggesting that the people most likely to benefit from the voluntary affordability associated with Garage/Garden Suites are family members of wealthy individuals. If rented to people who the owners did not know, it was found that on average, occupants were charged slightly below market rate. With this in mind, Garage/Garden Suites should not be viewed as the universal remedy to the affordable housing crisis in Canada, but as one important piece of the affordable housing puzzle. Policy changes that make Garage/Garden Suites more accessible and affordable for middle-income Canadians to build may enable greater numbers of Canadians to reap the benefits associated ADUs.