Will carriage houses destroy city life as we know it?
Last Friday's (8/9/2013) Express/The Washington Post's "Ready to Rent" section featured the carriage house as a desirable place to live. See "Your Own Private Hideaway." I haven't figured out where they have this online, but you can find the article by downloading the issue from the Read Express website.
So I guess the Post believes that the city won't be destroyed by carriage houses.
In DC's zoning update process (see the past blog entries "A good chance the DC Zoning Rewrite will crash and burn: Part 1" and "DC as a suburban agenda dominated city"), one of the elements that has unglued many residents of the suburban intra-city is the possibility of expanding the ability to have accessory dwelling units or legal apartments within larger dwellings.
In all the hullaballoo about "alley dwellings" and "accessory dwelling units" the Office of Planning has backed off their original more expansive proposals, and propose to allow either a separate unit on the lot or an in-building apartment, but not both.
Image of Gessford Court SE from The Hill is Home blog.
The city has a long history with alley dwellings, which for more than 100 years, were used to hide and house poor people.
President Wilson's wife Edith helped spur along the Alley Dwelling Authority, which mostly eradicated this type of housing.
Even so, pockets of alley housing ("D.C.'s Gessford Court is a little alley oasis" from the Post) re-branded as "Courts" and individual carriage houses ("Alley Homes Fight for Respect -- and Trash Pickup," Post) remained on Capitol Hill especially, but can also be found in Greater Dupont Circle and Georgetown, and here and there across the city.
James Borchert's Alley Life in Washington: Family, Community, Religion, and Folklife in the City, 1850-1970 is the definitive book on the history of this type of housing unit in the city, at least preceding the last 40 years.
Right: This little girl, 5 years older than when this picture was taken, lives in a renovated carriage house located immediately behind the commercial buildings on H Street NE. She seems to be fairly well-adjusted--and is even more gorgeous--despite the claims by Upper Northwest DC residents up in arms about "those people" living in alley dwellings.
Currently, ADUs aren't really legal, unless they are used by family members or "domestic servants" or building custodians.
But creative legal minds have figured out that since domestic servant isn't absolutely defined in the zoning code, if "tenants" put out your garbage, that qualifies as a domestic servant. So in R1 zones--single family houses on for the city, comparatively big lots, ADUs are matter of right.
(Otherwise it's hard to get approval for alley dwelling units. The current regulations require that the alley be 30 feet wide in different R zones, for housing to be legal--unless grandfathered in. But arts-based uses, non-living, are legal.)
A lot of the opposition is about "those people," "those people" being different, unruly, and poorer than owners, forgetting the fact that legal ADUs will only be able to be offered if the main house is owner-occupied. It won't be in an owner's best interest to rent to the unwashed, especially if they are sharing the same backyard.
I have written about this a lot. Basically, I think that ADUs should be preferenced in areas around transit stations especially. My neighborhood could accommodate hundreds. ADUs will allow lower priced housing, but also enable another income stream for otherwise increasingly more expensive to acquire properties.
And it will provide a revenue stream for renovating structures that might now be neglected or otherwise nuisances.
The increased price of owner occupied housing is why you see in Canada especially--they don't have a mortgage interest tax deduction like we do in the US--the addition of apartments to "single family houses" and depending on the community, carriage houses/ADUs/laneway houses. Although this is seen more in cities like Vancouver, BC and Seattle, Washington.
The Pocket Neighborhoods concept, by Ross Chapin (I've mentioned the book before, which is beautifully written and illustrated) is a riff on the idea of laneway housing.
And housing of this type in Salt Lake City, built decades ago, and down the block from Pioneer Park, was pointed out to me.
Being that it is situated behind some apartment buildings, you'd never know it was there, unless your attention is called to it.
The photos of laneway type housing in SLC are below. The thing is that they are incredibly well located. (SLC was designed with massively large blocks, 10 acres in size, so "alley type housing" is a good way to use up space on the interior of a block.)
As I mentioned, they are across the street from the city's signature downtown park, and close to upscale groceries, a couple blocks from Downtown, a bicycle sharing station, etc.
In DC, ADUs would allow the surgical increase of affordable housing, in ways that limit demand on infrastructure, and strengthen neighborhood commercial districts, schools, and safety on the interior of blocks.