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Dallas’ Fight Over Granny Flats Should Look Familiar

Whatever you call them — Accessory Dwelling Unit, granny flat, mother-in-law unit or garage apartment — they could be a solution to Dallas' affordable housing problem.
Whatever you call them — Accessory Dwelling Unit, granny flat, mother-in-law unit or garage apartment — they could be a solution to Dallas' affordable housing problem.
Warren LeMay / Wikimedia Commons
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The basic outlines of the argument could have been surmised from any number of Dallas City Hall disputes that have gone down the last couple of decades.

One faction on the City Council wants to do something that they believe could — maybe, they aren't really sure — do something to bridge the divide between Dallas residents who are comfortable and those who are just hanging on.

Another faction hears the concerns — they really do — but they're just a little worried about the effect those changes or that plan might have on their neighborhoods.

Monday, the issue at hand was so-called Accessory Dwelling Units. You might know them better as granny flats, mother-in-law units or garage apartments. Proponents of the small apartments say they can expand access to affordable housing in a city that desperately needs it.

Two years ago, after some long, hard work from departed City Council members Scott Griggs and Philip Kingston, Dallas formally legalized the units, but only for neighborhoods, development districts and homeowners who put their hands up and said they wanted them.

Forcing people and neighborhoods to opt in rather than opt out to ADUs hasn't worked.

City staff said Monday that, since the ADU ordinance went on the books in 2018, Dallas has received just two applications from homeowners looking to build one of the units. No new neighborhoods have opted in to allowing the units, either.

To get things started, staff suggested, the city could either allow the units by right, citywide, or default to allowing the units, while allowing development districts to opt out, rather than opt in.

Council member Chad West, the chairman of the housing committee, said the current process was too difficult to navigate, especially for a city with an affordable housing crisis.

"We're not going to have a viable system if we don't get aggressive with this," West said. "We have a responsibility to get 20,000, at a minimum, new affordable homes in this city and this is a way to do it across the entire city, including in neighborhoods (that aren't affordable) for most people."

Adam McGough and Cara Mendelsohn, both of whom represent portions of North Dallas, said it was unfair to allow garage apartments across the city.

"If the community doesn't want it, they shouldn't have to have it," Mendelsohn said. "They bought their home with a certain expectation."

McGough said that allowing the units could make parking much more difficult for current residents, among other problems.

"I have concerns. I would not support going to an opt-out system," McGough said. "I would stick with what we're doing right now with no change. From what I'm hearing, that some of the economics is part of the problem, maybe there are areas where we can reduce the burdens on the application process or something like that. I support ADUs. It's just the unintended consequences and the impact this has on neighbors."

There was not North Dallas unanimity against expanding the ordinance, however. Lee Kleinman — who never met a regulation that he particularly cared for — said the units should be allowed by right.

"I don't think there's the backlog of ADUs waiting to get built," said Kleinman, who supports allowing the units across the city. "I think a lot of (the complaints about the units changing neighborhoods) is unwarranted fear-mongering."

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