Council considers bill allowing ‘backyard cottages’ to help affordable housing crisis

·2 min read

A unique solution proponents argue could help Jacksonville’s affordable housing crisis is working its way through the city council.

A bill would change zoning to allow for “Accessory Dwelling Units,” or as they have been dubbed in some cities, “backyard cottages.”

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The bill was introduced by Councilmember Rory Diamond.

“It allows a single family to build something in the back of their home to keep their family together,” he said during the Land Use and Zoning committee meeting, referring to elderly parents or kids coming back from college in need of a place to stay. “You could also rent it, which would keep it more affordable for your mortgage.”

Homes eligible for ADUs must be at least 2,000 square feet. The size of the ADU would have to be no more than 25% of the main home’s area, or no more than 500 square feet total.

According to the bill, the “backyard cottage” must look similar to the main home, the homeowner must live on the property to avoid rental companies from coming in and the ADU must not violate rules for homeowners associations or independent communities with their own zoning. It could also be used as an Airbnb.

“It’s like having a studio apartment, but it’s in your backyard — so it’s a separate unit. There’s more independence and more privacy,” Cindy Funkhouser, the CEO of Sulzbacher, said. “We have to figure out how we can build housing. Housing is the answer to homelessness. Period.”

Read: ‘It was a big win’: Affordable housing heading to West Augustine community

She said the wait list for people trying to get units at Sulzbacher Village has grown to hundreds and argues this is one possible solution to the crisis.

The city’s property appraiser told Action News Jax at least 50,000 homes would fall under the category for “backyard cottages,” but it’s not clear how many of those belong to an HOA. The neighborhoods he said would primarily be impacted include Murray Hill, Avondale, San Marco, San Mateo and Oceanway.

While zoning allowed bedrooms and bathrooms to be built in backyards before, this bill includes a full kitchen in the zoning, which Diamond said is key.

The Planning Commission unanimously voted to approve the zoning change. Land Use and Zoning also voted to approve. The bill goes before full council on Tuesday.

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