Granny Flats CAN Save Portland, Symposium Concludes

Accessory Dwelling Units are gaining some serious cachet in Portland.

How else to explain the turnout of forty-five prospective ADU owners and green building wonks that packed Hammer & Hand’s office to capacity this past Saturday to participate in our ADU Symposium, “Can Granny Flats Save Portland?”  In fact, the event “sold out” weeks ago (can a free event “sell out”?), just days after we announced it.

“The attention and enthusiasm apparent from the wide range of expert professionals and interested clients at the Symposium proves that ADUs are a very hot topic in Portland right now,” said H&H President Sam Hagerman.

Brian Libby (of the blog Portland Architecture) moderated the panel, which included Valerie Garrett (City of Portland), David Todd (Meadows Group), Dan Lajoie (Departure Design), Lee Hiltenbrand (City of Portland), and our own Sam Hagerman.  The audience was also packed with experts, including Eric Engstrom of the City, Jordan Palmeri of Oregon DEQ, Taylor Watkins of Watkins & Associates, Kama Dersham of Kama & Company, Greg Olson of Olson & Jones, and many others.  The result was a dynamic interchange that broke down the “fourth wall” between panel and audience.

(left to right: Brian Libby, Lee Hiltenbrand, Sam Hagerman, Dan Lajoie, Valerie Garrett, David Todd)

Topics ranged from design considerations (maximizing small spaces, responding to city-imposed design restrictions) to funding questions (hint: locally-based portfolio lenders like credit unions are much more likely to lend for ADU projects than big, conventional banks), to zoning and code questions (SF maximums were recently relaxed and a 3-year moratorium was placed on systems development charges), to business and other questions.

A key moment of the Symposium occurred when Sam highlighted a primary reason for the current interest in ADUs: they “pencil out” as really smart investments that create positive cash flow.  A beautiful 2-bedroom, 800 SF detached ADU built from high quality materials might cost $120,000 to construct, the debt service might be $650/mo. and rent could easily be $1200/mo. or more.  Even with insurance, taxes and other expenses, it’s easy to see that you’d be operating in the black.  The result? Home grown, sustainable income generation.

Add the ability to house your aging folks in the unit, and later to age-in-place yourself, and ADUs really look like a smart move.  Plus, they provide lots of flexibility, as this image from Jordan Palmeri (Oregon DEQ) attests:

And for good measure, heap on the green benefits of ADUs (compact living, support of UGB and walkable “20-minute neighborhoods” rich with amenities, maximizing of existing infrastructure).  What are you left with?  A no-brainer building type.  (Do I sound convinced?)

In sum, the Symposium was a great success.  Our thanks goes out to the panelists and Brian Libby for making it so.  Finally, lest there be any doubt, granny flats can save Portland.  (Though there may be debate as to whether the City needs “saving”… maybe just a good shot in the arm?)


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