Kol Peterson is an ADU expert – many call him “THE” ADU expert. No one has helped catalyze the exponential growth of ADUs over the last decade more than Peterson has through advocacy, education, consulting, and entrepreneurship.
As an author, the Portland, Oregon-based Peterson, who earned an MA in Environmental Planning from Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, wrote the definitive, top-selling book on ADUs: Backdoor Revolution-The Definitive Guide to ADU Development.
As an educator, advocate and communicator, he teaches ADU classes and has lead thousands of accreditation and continuing education credit programs in Oregon, Washington, and California, while editing and managing AccessoryDwellings.org, BuildinganADU.com, pdxadu.blogspot.com, and AccessoryDwellingStrategies.com.
As an expert in planning, permitting, building, financing and maintaining ADUs, he has worked as a consultant with hundreds of homeowners, builders, contractors, appraisers and real estate agents.
As an entrepreneur, he is the owner of “Caravan- The Tiny House Hotel,” the first tiny house hotel in the world, and organizer of Portland’s popular ADU Tour.
Peterson recently spoke with Plans & Permits about ADUs and what makes them increasingly important to communities today.
WHY ARE ADUS SO IMPORTANT TODAY?
ADUs are a life-changing project and often times they provide a pathway to financial freedom. That’s the number one reason to consider building one.
WHAT IS THE GREATEST FORCE DRIVING THE GROWTH OF ADU CONSTRUCTION?
The affordable housing crisis, growing awareness of housing supply and demand and the mismatch between single family large homes is first. We were formerly nuclear family-based so that was reasonable but now only a quarter of families are nuclear and most are two-person, so that demand and supply problem is driving institutional backing of new zoning and permitting perspectives and financing as planning staffs are seeing ADUs as a solution to retool and revamp residential zones to allow the housing, We need to do that to meet the demand which is now for one and two person dwellings. There’s a lot of things driving the ADU movement and for example I would put aging multi-family generational housing not at the top of the list, it might be fourth or fifth.
WHY IS LOS ANGELES GROUND ZERO FOR THE NATION’S ADU GROWTH?
Los Angeles is the best market for ADUs right now because of good ordinances and due to state legislation. It has been dominated by single family zoning so its dominated by multi-family zoning. It’s a crazy mismatch there between supply and demand.
Los Angeles is really ground zero for ADUs: it went from 80 in 2015 to 5000 in 2018. That is a radical explosion of ADU development. That doesn’t mean there is a deep knowledge base but in five years it will. It all happened in Portland starting in 2010 and grew so fast.
In Los Angeles the popularity has really grown in the last two years but ADUs are still very new there. My goal is to export best practices to other jurisdictions outside of Oregon where we have experience. California is progressive and in addition to LA, the entire state is going to see an explosion of ADUs.
WHAT IS THE HARDEST ASPECT OF BUILDING AN ADU?
The hardest part is that every one, every project has its own challenges; and that the whole first part is very complicated. It is complicated process and daunting. You are basically becoming a developer on your own property with all the legal and financing and zoning and contract management and materials and building science aspects most people have no knowledge about.
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU GIVE ABOUT PERMITTING?
Largely what I focus on is getting through planning phase and I lay out series of steps to get there. It jumps quickly after that to the state of vetting. The roadblocks you are likely to experience in terms of permitting are going to be discovered then. That’s all part of going to the City and having them determine eligibility to do what you want. For example, do you have the CCRs, do you know about that new sewer project going in that you knew nothing about when you started, vetting all those issues out with the City.
When you get to the design documents and you take those to the City and go through that whole process, that is often is three months after three months for design and then three for construction, and with realistic problems any project can take twice that sometimes as much as a year and a half or two for what was planned to be a few months.
The permitting process depends on the locality. For example, LA is notoriously challenging for permitting. Some other markets are difficult too and are known for bureaucracy and legal regulatory issues. In California, the legislation the state just passed will address permitting and residential impact fees, but it is hard to predict how that will translate, and how the cities will handle them, We’ll see how it all plays out.
WHAT ABOUT NIMBY?
Every place deals with the same dislikes because people bought into single family residential zoning. Then they think changing that causes parking problems and slums, all totally false assertions about ADUs. People are scared of change and those who say that have no data to support what they are saying.
It’s a really challenging thing and every jurisdiction faces it, that’s why the second half of my book addresses those concerns, that are not true, with real data and shows the actual impact of ADUs. For example, in Portland where ADU has the highest market penetration in the country, but that amount is only two percent, and that is the highest in all 50 states. So with that small amount, the issue of parking problems caused by ADUs is absurd. With that percentage of market penetration; the math and logic make that clear.
DO YOU RECOMMEND HOMEOWNERS WORK WITH PROFESSIONALS?
You need a professional and working with one can help avoid some costs, for example, if it’s a conversion and therefore the structural shell has been addressed, that can be easier but the California Energy Code makes conversions more difficult there, so it’s important to use a professional designer.