By Bill Adams, MBA, CCIM, CRB, ALC
The National Association of Realtors (NAR) estimates that there is a shortage of
5.5 million housing units in the United States. This imbalance between demand
and supply is one of the big reasons home prices have skyrocketed over the last
decade. High home prices, according to NAR, especially affect “middle-income
buyers, first time buyers and first-generation buyers.”
Many of Atlanta’s intown neighborhoods historically have had single family
houses with an additional dwelling unit. That additional unit could be in the form
of a detached garage apartment or a unit in the basement or attic of a house. In
most cases, the additional unit may have been “grandfathered in” meaning the
use predates the current zoning regulations.
The City of Atlanta currently permits Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) in some
neighborhoods that are within single-family zoning districts of R-4, R-4A and R-4B.
The units are also permitted in R-5 (Single Family/Duplex) zoning districts. An ADU
is usually a small second dwelling on the same lot as a larger house.
In order to improve density and housing affordability, the city has proposed
several changes to the ordinance governing ADUs. The proposal will increase the
height of an ADU from 20 feet to 24 feet to allow for a unit to be constructed on
top of a detached garage. It would also allow an ADU to be attached to the main
unit, like a basement apartment or the conversion of an attached garage to an
ADU. In most cases, the size of the ADU cannot exceed 1,000 square feet. In
addition, the proposal would allow an ADU to be sold using a detached “zero lot
line” configuration that is currently use in R-5 districts that allows duplexes to be
subdivided. In the R-4 , single-family districts, only one unit per lot could be sold
as a zero-lot line property. In an R-5, duplex district, three units, a duplex plus an
ADU could be sold as zero lot line properties.
The advantages of ADUs are that they will add density and housing diversity to
Atlanta’s neighborhoods. Also, the revenue from an ADU may also allow
homeowners to stay in their homes longer while generating income from a rental
unit to offset some of their living costs. The hope is that because of their small
size, these ADUs will make living in an increasingly unaffordable city a little more