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Council approves 'accessory dwelling units' to allow more housing in single-family zones

A sketch showing different types of accessory dwelling units that would be legal under the proposed ordinance.
City of Cincinnati
A sketch showing different types of accessory dwelling units that would be legal under the proposed ordinance.

A new type of housing could be popping up in your neighborhood after City Council voted 8-0 Monday to approve an ordinance that legalizes accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, on properties with a single-family home.

ADUs can be a basement, attic or garage apartment, or could be a completely separate structure. Attached housing units are already allowed in multi-family zones. The ordinance allows ADUs in all areas where single-family homes are currently allowed.

RELATED: 'Accessory dwelling units' could be coming to single-family neighborhoods in Cincinnati

Council Member Mark Jeffreys introduced the idea. He says there are three primary benefits.

"This is about the need for more housing; we have a housing crisis in the city [and] this is certainly one element to solve it," he said. "The second major reason is aging in place; so, the AARP is a big supporter of this. The third reason is building more wealth for homeowners."

The extra unit could be used for long- or short-term rentals, making it a potential source of income. That's one reason the Realtor Alliance of Greater Cincinnati supports the measure.

"We are trying to create opportunities that are diverse options for homeownership in the city so that everybody has an opportunity at homeownership," said leadership board member Heather Kopf. "We are experiencing an extreme housing shortage not only nationally, but here locally in Cincinnati."

Rules aimed at preventing out-of-town investors from profiting off an ADU include an owner occupancy requirement, or another "responsible party" living on the property. Violators would be charged a $15,000 fine.

Mt. Washington resident Julie Rimer told Council members there wasn't enough community engagement.

"Talk with every community council and every group that will truly be impacted, not just developers or people who stand to profit from this," Rimer said. "We residents, our communities will be changed forever with an ordinance like this."

One other Mt. Washington resident shared similar concerns about community engagement during public comment.

Jeffreys says the change has been under consideration for a year and the city hosted dozens of public meetings. Invest in Neighborhoods hosted a virtual town hall on the topic earlier this year, inviting all community councils to participate.

Jeffreys expects growth of the ADU program to be slow at first, pointing to implementation in other cities. A report from the Urban Land Institute shows Portland, Ore., averaged 40 new ADU's each year for the first several years after allowing them. As of 2016, Portland is now averaging 600 a year.

The measure will go into effect Oct. 2.

The ordinance is one of the first steps in land-use reform that the mayor's office and Council have been discussing since taking office over a year ago.

RELATED: How Cincinnati's residential tax abatement program works, and how it's changing this year

The ordinance is also compatible with recent changes to residential tax abatements; adding an ADU would qualify for an abatement, plus the bonus for multiple units.

See a summary of the legislation below, followed by a presentation summarizing the process. The full ordinance is available online at this link.

Local Government Reporter with a particular focus on Cincinnati; experienced journalist in public radio and television throughout the Midwest. Enthusiastic about: civic engagement, public libraries, and urban planning.