Zoning Laws Hold Back Multi-Gen Housing

March 16, 2016

Builders say city ordinances nationwide are preventing them from constructing multigenerational housing — an increasingly popular option as more American families are living under one roof — and a shortage of this type of housing is growing.

More than 18 percent of the nation's population lives in a multigenerational household, up from 15 percent in 2000, according to a 2014 Pew Research Study. Those numbers could be even larger if local zoning laws weren't standing in the way of construction of new multigenerational units, builders say. Some laws are particularly onerous when it comes to kitchens: They require additional units within multigenerational homes to have their own kitchen. However, many local governments won't approve a second kitchen for adults living in separate guest suites, says homebuilder Jon Girod, owner of Quail Homes in Vancouver, Wash.

"It's a cat-and-mouse game," Girod told The Wall Street Journal. "Quite frankly, the rules are outdated for today's society."

To get around that, some builders will call the kitchen by a different name or offer a scaled-down kitchen. For example, New Home Co. in Aliso Viejo, Calif., refers to its second kitchens as "service bars" while Woodley Architectural Group in Denver calls them "convenience centers."

National homebuilder Lennar has made multigenerational housing a major part of its marketing campaigns through its "NextGen" designs. But to accommodate local regulations, many of Lennar's multigenerational homes have had to include scaled-down kitchenettes (or what they call "eat-in kitchenettes") for the second unit. The kitchens will include a convection oven, microwave, refrigerator, dishwasher, and sink.

Lennar Regional President Jeff Roos says some cities have also asked the builder to reconfigure the entrances of the second units to meet local requirements. For example, in Glendale, Ariz., city officials required Lennar to design the homes with only one front entry door so that it would match surrounding homes. In that case, the entry to the second unit had to be inside the main home.

"When they were writing the codes, [towns] didn't really anticipate this," Roos says. "Some are proactive right off the bat and super supportive. And some are still scratching their heads."

Source: “Hurdles to Multigenerational Living: Kitchens and Visible Second Entrances,” The Wall Street Journal (March 14, 2016) [Log-in required.]