Backyard guesthouses legalized in Phoenix, addressing affordable housing shortage

Sep 8, 2023, 4:35 AM

Arizona State Senator Anna Hernandez...

Arizona State Sen. Anna Hernandez speaks to city council. (Balin Overstolz-McNair/KTAR News)

(Balin Overstolz-McNair/KTAR News)

PHOENIX — The Phoenix City Council voted 8-1 to legalize auxiliary dwelling units, also known as ADUs, as what is intended to be another tool to create more affordable housing in the Valley.

While “ADU” is now the correct legal term in Phoenix, you likely know these smaller, dethatched homes such as “guest houses” or “casitas.”

Sounds of applause were heard in the chamber as the vote was passed.

“It is now much easier to build a casita at your Phoenix home.” Mayor Kate Gallego said.

The one dissenting member of the council was Jim Waring, who voted no after explaining his vote.

Waring voted against the measure, not out of a total lack of support, but he worries any new housing created by this would be used as a business opportunity for short-term renters, which includes people who rent through services like Airbnb.

“So I’m going to vote no. I would like to vote yes, and I wish this all the best and that it works out.”

Community speaks out

Both council members and speakers from the public alike shared a concern that any new housing created by guesthouses would be used for short-term renting, instead of permanent housing for Valley residents.

Since the idea was first presented to the formal city council in July, some changes have been made regarding the STR concern.

City Planner Joshua Bednarek said the permitting process will catch people trying to use ADUs as short-term rentals.

“If they’re looking to secure a building permit for an ADU, yes, they can. They just can’t use the ADU as a short-term rental,” Bednarek said.

A separate ordinance that intends to restrict short-term rentals overall is set to be considered by the council on September 20th.

The allowed size and dimensions of an ADU are 75% of the primary house, up to 3,000 square feet (about the area of a tennis court) on large properties, a maximum height of 15 feet.

There’s also no additional parking required.

Concerns raised

There are also some concerns on the neighborhood level about congestion and parking.

“The thing that would make this better is having some protection for neighborhoods. And that boils down to having some language about required parking,” Valley resident Larry Whitesell said during public comment,

This was a common sentiment among Village Planning Committees, or leaders on neighborhood levels. The main concern revolves around the fact it could be hard to add parking to a property that is only designed to be occupied by a single family.

But there was also some high praise from Arizona state politicians, who joined the public hearing as members of the public.

ADU’s would help families

State Senator Anna Hernandez explained this will be a big benefit for big families that live in one house, which she explained is not uncommon in the Valley.

“Multi-generational families are a real thing. So, I think having the option to build casitas in their backyards would be super, super helpful for the families in our area,” Hernandez said.

Meanwhile, State Rep. Analise Ortiz says this may not be the solution that solves our housing shortage…but having another way to add housing is a good move for the city,

“According to the Department of Housing, we are short 270,000 housing units statewide. And we know we need to use every tool at our disposal to bring more units online,” Ortiz said.

During an interview with KTAR News 92.3 FM following the meeting, Phoenix Vice Mayor Yassamin Ansari said this needs to be the first step in a long process.

“I’m also looking forward to more zoning reform in the City of Phoenix,” Ansari said.

Ansari called the move “phase one.”

She also indicated the council will look to allowing more duplexes and triplexes to be built to increase housing supply, look at minimum parking requirements, and density requirements.

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Backyard guesthouses legalized in Phoenix, addressing affordable housing shortage