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Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Tiny cottages in backyards and apartments above garages — also known as granny flats or in-law suites — are gaining popularity in cities desperate for more, smaller housing options.

Why it matters: About 75% of the land in U.S. cities is zoned for single-family housing only. Proposals to build multifamily housing often run up against stiff NIMBY-ist opposition.

  • "Accessory dwelling units," or ADUs, are small and typically built in or near existing homes, so they don't face as much resistance from neighbors — and may get people more comfortable with adding density.

"A lot of homeowners can see themselves wanting to build an ADU, whether it's for a family member to stay in or for guests or a short-term rental, or they may see it as a tool to make the mortgage more affordable," said Emily Hamilton, research fellow and director of the Urbanity Project at George Mason University's Mercatus Center.

What's happening: Seattle, Portland, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Austin, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., have made it easier to get permits for granny flats.

  • While California and Oregon have OK'd upzoning, other statewide proposals face steeper climbs. A Virginia bill to allow one ADU per single-family dwelling was tabled last month and won't be considered again until next year.

The other side: Critics say these units allow development too close to property lines and reduce street parking.

  • It's also expensive to convert a basement or garage attic into space that meets building code requirements, or squeeze a detached structure in the back yard.

What they're saying: Jenny Schuetz, a fellow with Brookings' Metropolitan Policy Program, said, "gentle upzoning" — allowing for ADUs, duplexes and triplexes in neighborhoods currently zoned only for single-family housing — is only part of the solution.

"ADUs are like the scooters of housing policy — they're flashy and cute and everyone loves them. Scooters are good at getting people thinking about other ways to get around, but inherently they don't scale. Even if we put an ADU on every single-family lot the U.S. — which of course won't happen — we wouldn't solve the problem."
— Jenny Schuetz

Go deeper

"Atmospheric river" swings Northern California from drought to flood

Satellite view of the bomb cyclone swirling off the coast of the Pacific Northwest and the atmospheric river affecting California on Oct. 24. (CIRA/RAMMB)

A series of powerful "atmospheric river" storms are delivering historic amounts of rainfall across parts of drought-stricken California and the Pacific Northwest this weekend, forecasters warn.

Why it matters: The strong atmospheric river, packing large amounts of moisture, is causing Northern California to whiplash from drought to flood.

Mike Allen, author of AM
7 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Fauci fires back at Rand Paul for slam on tonight's "Axios on HBO"

Responding to charges by Sen. Rand Paul on Sunday's "Axios on HBO," NIAID director Anthony Fauci told "ABC This Week" that it's "molecularly impossible" for U.S.-funded bat virus research in China to have produced COVID-19.

Why it matters: The issue 0f Wuhan research was reignited on the right last week with a National Institutes of Health letter to Congress disclosing more about the research.

Manchin, Schumer huddle with Biden in Delaware to discuss spending bill

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (left) and Sen. Joe Manchin at the U.S. Capitol in 2014. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) will meet with President Biden and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Sunday morning in Delaware as Democrats look to reach an agreement on the massive spending measure.

Driving the news: Democrats are still negotiating what to keep in the bill and how to pay for it, with Biden saying on Thursday that the party does not have the votes to raise the corporate tax rate.