Community conversation on Vienna, Austria’s social housing model

One of my friends and a giant in Montgomery County housing advocacy, Pamela Lindstrom, asked me to organize a policy forum on Vienna’s social housing model. That conversation led to the event we hosted with the Sierra Club on September. Much of the work to organize the event was conducted by Council staff member Linda McMillan. I am grateful to them both for their support!

present a community conversation on

Vienna, Austria’s Smart City Strategies for Housing, Energy, and Mobility

SEPTEMBER 14, 2019
9:30-11:30AM

Council Office Building
3rd Floor Hearing Room
100 Maryland Ave
Rockville, MD 20850

A special thanks to Pam Lindstrom for helping organize this community conversation.

Presenters include:

  • Dr. Kurt Sturzenbecher, Member of the Vienna City Council
  • Mrs. Karin Ramser, Director, Vienna Housing Agency Wiener Wohnen
  • Ms. Katharina Bayer, Architect
  • Mag. Josef Cser, Director of Wohnservice Wien

Followed by a Q&A with the audience and representatives of County agencies, and remarks from Shruti Bhatnagar, Chair, Sierra Club Montgomery County, MD

Montgomery County has partnered with the University of Maryland and the Embassy of Austria to host an exhibition, provide presentations, and a community discussion on Vienna’s approach to social housing, energy, and mobility. Close to 60 percent of Vienna’s 1.8 million inhabitants live in government-subsidized housing that is rented to them by the municipality or nonprofit housing associations.

Watch the video of the event

Questions? Contact Councilmember Hans Riemer’s office
at 240.777.7964 or Councilmember.Riemer@montgomerycountymd.gov

Council Approves Zoning Change for Accessory Dwelling Units

Dear residents,

I am pleased to share that the Council voted unanimously, 9-0, to support the zoning proposal I introduced to allow more homeowners to build Accessory Dwelling Units.

An Accessory Dwelling Unit is a basement apartment or garage conversion or similar small housing unit that is added to a property.

I introduced this change so that the County could provide an opportunity that many families are seeking, to be able to provide a living arrangement that offers separation but proximity, independence but togetherness. We heard from retirees that they might use an ADU to age in place, and Millennials that they could use an ADU to better afford a mortgage.

We carefully reviewed concerns that were raised about impacts on schools, parking and the environment, and we made changes that achieve a balanced solution that will get a very tailored, practical result.

Details are below. Thank you to each of you who spoke out, whatever your views.

Sincerely,

Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Councilmember, At-large


Council Approves Zoning Change
for Accessory Dwelling Units

Legislation sponsored by Councilmember Hans Riemer
would remove obstacles to lower-cost housing

ROCKVILLE, Md., July 23, 2019 – The Montgomery County Council unanimously adopted Zoning Text Amendment 19-01 today, removing significant barriers for homeowners who wish to build Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) on their properties. ZTA 19-01 was sponsored by at-large Councilmember Hans Riemer, who chairs the Council’s Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee.

“The high cost of housing in Montgomery County is pricing people out,” said Councilmember Hans Riemer. “This important change allows homeowners to build housing that works for their families, and to create better options for renters in communities across Montgomery County. I am grateful for the careful deliberation of my colleagues and their unanimous support, as well as the strong advocacy of the smart growth community – working together we got it done.”

An ADU is a second, separate living unit on a lot zoned for single unit development. ADUs can be built by converting a basement into an apartment, adding an addition to an existing house, building an apartment over a garage, converting an existing shed or detached garage, or building a new backyard cottage. An ADU is distinguished from renting out part of a house because it is a totally separate living unit, with a separate entrance, bathroom and kitchen.

“I am proud to be a part of this Council team that worked hard to provide a creative solution with accessory dwelling units that fits the needs of Montgomery County,” said Council President Nancy Navarro. “We are in the midst of a region-wide housing challenge, and we need creative and effective strategies like this to address the availability of housing for our residents. I would also like to thank the community for their robust input and feedback. As a legislative body, we are committed to bolstering our code enforcement resources and taking appropriate measures to ensure that those who work here can live here and those who wish to retire here are able to do so in a safe and comfortable setting.”

ADUs are a popular solution for families that have relatives who want to live independently, but close by – such as an older grandparent or an adult child with disabilities. Also, the income provided by renting an ADU can make the difference in allowing seniors to age in place as the cost of living grows or allowing new families to be able to afford to buy a home in increasingly expensive areas. Finally, ADUs provide a more affordable option for people seeking to rent in many areas by increasing the supply of housing and reducing pressure on rents across the County.

“Affordable housing continues to be a complex issue in Montgomery County,” said Councilmember Will Jawando. “It affects seniors who would like to downsize and remain in their community or near their family; young adults who were born and raised in the county but cannot afford to live here on their own; and families with adult disabled children who are able to live with limited independence. ZTA 19-01 has gone through many work sessions in the Planning, Housing and Economic Development (PHED) Committee and reflects changes based on input from County residents. ADUs do not represent an ultimate solution but instead provide one more alternative in the challenge to make housing affordable for all Montgomery County residents.”

“I appreciate the extensive and substantive community input we received throughout this legislative process and our efforts on the Council to thoughtfully address the issues and concerns of our residents,” said Councilmember Andrew Friedson. “Thanks to that feedback and careful deliberation, we reached a far better outcome on this zoning text change, especially with amendments limiting the size, maintaining existing parking requirements except in transit-accessible areas and introducing companion legislation to help monitor the impact of ADUs going forward.”

“I look forward to the positive benefits that will stem from the passage of ZTA 19-01, such as allowing more families to support their elderly relatives and family members in need, close to home,” said Councilmember Craig Rice.

ZTA 19-01 makes the following changes to the County’s zoning law covering ADUs:

  • Removes the prohibition on detached ADUs in lots smaller than one acre. The size of the detached ADUs must be the smaller of 10 percent of the lot size, 50 percent of the footprint of the principal dwelling; or 1200 sq. ft. Existing rules limiting the construction of accessory structures apply, including height limits, maximum lot coverage requirements, and stormwater requirements. In addition, the greater side and rear setbacks currently required for detached ADUs remain.
  • Removes the requirement for an additional parking space within one mile of Metro, Purple Line or MARC stations. Proposed ADUs require one off-street parking space in addition to the parking required for each detached house (typically two spaces). For areas outside of one mile, three off-street spaces are still required.
  • Allows for the conversion of existing, legally built structures into ADUs.
  • Clarifies that other rental uses (such as Airbnb) on a property that includes an ADU are prohibited.
  • Removes the prohibition on ADUs in new construction.
  • Removes the distance requirement restricting ADUs from being built within 300 to 500 feet of an existing ADU.

ADUs are a part of the Council’s continuing efforts to ensure that affordable, quality housing is available to residents at all income levels. While these units alone will certainly not solve the housing crisis, they do fill an important gap and can be paired with existing rental subsidy and other potential subsidy programs to reach an even deeper level of affordability.

ZTA 19-01 was first introduced on Jan. 15, 2019 and a public hearing was held on Feb. 26. The Council’s PHED Committee held three meetings before unanimously recommending adoption with amendments. The full Council reviewed ZTA 19-01 on June 18 and July 9 to make further amendments before approving the legislation today.

The changes will take effect on Dec. 31, 2019 together with Bill 22-19, which is a companion bill to amend the licensing code which was introduced on July 16, 2019. Bill 22-19 renames “Accessory Apartments” to “Accessory Dwelling Units” in the County Code, modernizes the standards for measuring basement ceiling heights, requires ADU applicants to certify that they meet any applicable HOA standards and notice requirements to affected HOAs, requires quarterly reporting on ADU issues by the County Executive, and requires that the property owner live on-site in either the principal dwelling or the ADU. A public hearing on Bill 22-19 is tentatively scheduled for Sept. 10 at 1:30 p.m.

Council to discuss Accessory Dwelling Units

Dear Resident:

On June 18, the County Council will discuss zoning code changes that support “Accessory Dwelling Units.” Here’s some important information I want to share with you.

Si prefieres leer mis comunicaciones de correo electrónico en Español, puedes suscribirte aquí.

Starting with what ADUs are and what they are not: An ADU is not the same thing as renting out a house or renting out rooms in a house. An ADU is a private residence inside of a house, such as a basement apartment; or a backyard cottage or garage conversion.

Picture of an ADU

A detached ADU in green on the left

To get an ADU construction permit and license, the unit must have separation and privacy from the house as well as its own kitchen and a bathroom.

There are about 160,000 owner-occupied single-family detached homes in the County and about 15,000 rented single-family detached homes. But there are only 475 ADUs.

ADUs are a more targeted housing solution because they require owner occupancy on the property. That requirement puts some organic limits on ADUs as the arrangement has to be something that the homeowner welcomes as part of daily life.

Because ADUs require a kitchen and bath and a separate entrance as well as possibly on-site parking, ADUs require considerable construction. The cost of that will depend on a lot of factors, similar to any home renovation project. A modest basement conversion could be less than $50,000, while a backyard cottage could be 3 or 4 times that amount.

Benefits of ADUs

More affordable housing
ADUs are generally smaller than houses so they are more affordable as rentals. A 900 square foot basement apartment or a 700 square foot backyard cottage will rent for a lot less than a house. As a result ADUs can promote economic integration and diversity in communities by providing access to smaller and more affordable housing in otherwise very expensive areas.

Aging in place
ADUs can enable older, modest-income homeowners to age in place with a new source of income by renting out the ADU or by living in the ADU and renting out the house.

Families living together
ADUs are also a desired solution for parents seeking a way to live with adult children or with grandparents. While they certainly can all live in one house together with no ADU, having separation and privacy from an ADU while living together is for many a more appealing and affirming arrangement, including for families with an adult child with disabilities.

Smarter growth
A final benefit of ADUs is that they add housing where there is already infrastructure. The impacts of these units are dispersed across a County that already has about 369,000 housing units in total.

What changes are proposed?

Unfortunately, the County’s zoning rules generally treat this housing type as a nuisance to be avoided rather than a resource to be welcomed. Our byzantine restrictions are a large reason the County is only producing a few dozen ADUs a year, a pittance compared to communities that have embraced them and create several hundred per year. This zoning change aims to change that framework.

Montgomery County zoning laws essentially prohibit backyard cottages or detached garage conversions. The code requires a property owner to have at least one acre in order to build one. Homeowners with an acre are the property owners least likely to need one and they don’t build them.

The proposal before the Council, as amended by the Planning and Housing Committee (where I serve as Chair with Councilmembers Andrew Friedson and Will Jawando), would limit the size of backyard cottages in a thoughtful way. The proposal limits the size of new cottages to 10% of the size of the lot.

In other words, if you have a 6000 square foot lot, the maximum size cottage you can build is 600 square feet.

Existing structures (typically garages) are exempt from this rule, as they already exist and there is no additional visual impact of the structure. They would have to meet code, of course.

Basement units are allowed to be the same size as the basement of the house, whatever footprint that may be.

In the existing County code, interior ADUs (typically basement apartments) cannot be closer than 300 feet to the nearest other ADU. This restriction basically limits them to one per block. The Committee proposal deletes that restriction, seeking to be supportive of ADUs.

To address concerns about parking, the Committee proposal requires ADUs that are farther than one mile from Metro or the Purple Line Station to build an additional parking space on the property or apply for a waiver based on available street parking.

As for setbacks and height restrictions and storm water, the proposal does not change any of those rules from the existing code for accessory structures — the rules that exist for homeowners who might want to build a separate garage or studio or guest house on their property, for example.

While some say we should have stricter rules for ADUs than garages, I don’t share that view.

What protections are provided?

I recognize that there are some residents who find this housing solution problematic. If you are among them, please consider the following.

Owner Occupancy
First, owner occupancy is a requirement. The owner must live on the property. That naturally constrains how the ADUs will be used. For example, an investor can’t purchase a house, add an ADU, and then rent out both units.

More generally, a property owner is only going to allow a property to be used in a manner that the owner is willing to live with personally. The historic Town of Brookeville which strongly supports ADUs has noted the benefit of the owner occupancy rule.

Prohibition of short-term renting and other rental limits
Another key point is that the units may not be rented out as short-term rentals (i.e., Airbnb). Montgomery County homeowners are allowed, under certain circumstances, to rent out their homes or rooms in their homes on a short term basis. That right would not extend to ADUs.

Any homeowner who wanted to rent out the bedroom from an ADU on a short term basis would have to remove the features that make it an ADU, such as kitchen equipment or even the internal separation from the house.

As a result, space built for an ADU would have the same short-term rental value as any other spare bedroom or underutilized living space.

Another significant restriction is that no other rental would be allowed on the property. So an owner could not also rent out the main house or rooms in the house.

Inspections and code enforcement
ADUs have license and inspection requirements. Licenses can be taken away for noncompliance, and penalties can be significant.

Finally, after hearing from some neighborhoods about general crowding of housing and concerns about the capacity of the County to conduct ADU inspections, the Council just added 3 code enforcement positions to focus on inspections in residential neighborhoods. Those positions will be hired soon.

What about schools?

One of the common questions asked about expanding ADUs is about the impact of this new housing on schools. Given that many schools are crowded, it is a natural concern.

To find out the answer, our Planning department pulled the list of all the licensed ADUs in the County and cross checked the property address with school enrollment data at MCPS.

What they learned is that properties that have a house and an ADU have no more students on average (0.464 students per address) than properties with just a house (0.462 students). To be clear, the data point compares the house and the ADU combined, versus properties with just a house. There is no difference in school enrollment.

Given the owner occupancy requirement, this should not be surprising, when you think about it. A property owner with a family might bring in grandparents or a tenant; or a retired couple might bring in a young family; but for one family on a property to add a second family as a tenant would have a big impact on that first family. That’s why it doesn’t really happen.

I find this data to be highly persuasive that ADUs are exactly what we have suggested they will be: a tailored housing solution that makes a very big difference in small targeted ways.

What is the process from here?

On Tuesday, June 18, the County Council will hold a worksession on the Committee’s recommendation.

The Committee met 3 times in March and April to work the issue through, following a public hearing in February. The Planning Board also conducted a public hearing and worksessions.

Presumably the Council will consider amendments raised, if any, and then come back at a later date to vote.

Thanks for reading. If you have made it this far and have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.

Sincerely,

Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Councilmember, At-large

Council Committee amends proposal for Accessory Dwelling Units

Recommended zoning changes for ADUs include limits on size and lot coverage

ROCKVILLE, Md., April 16, 2019—In January 2019, Councilmember Hans Riemer introduced Zoning Text Amendment (ZTA) 19-01, Accessory Residential Uses—Accessory Apartments, to support county residents who want to build accessory dwelling units (ADUs) on their properties. An ADU is a separate housing unit on the same lot as the primary home. Examples include backyard cottages and basement apartments. These housing units are generally more affordable than existing housing stock and are often used as in-law suites or apartments for young people.

Following a Council public hearing as well as consideration by the Planning Board, the Council’s Planning, Housing and Economic Development (PHED) Committee conducted three worksessions in March and April. PHED Chair Hans Riemer and Committee members Andrew Friedson and Will Jawando considered alternatives and amendments to the original proposal.

After making various changes, the Committee has concluded its work. The PHED Committee recommendations will go to the Council for review in mid-June with a vote expected this summer. The revisions advance the overall vision of allowing ADUs, while creating a proportional size standard to ensure that smaller properties will be limited to smaller detached ADUs.

PHED Chair Hans Riemer said,

“I am grateful for the substantial work my committee colleagues have devoted to this proposal. Accessory dwelling units are a housing option that should be available to homeowners in Montgomery County. They enable, for example, two generations of a family to live on one property — together, but with measured separation and privacy. We heard strong support for ADUs from both seniors and young families. As we look to the future of how families and communities are living, ADUs are a positive solution desired by many.

“The Committee recommendation responds to public feedback about the potential size of the units, among other issues. As we worked on the proposal we were mindful that homeowners can expand their homes already and frequently do. The Committee’s ADU proposal does not increase the amount of space a person can build on their lot. ADUs are subject to the same limits as additions — and in fact they are somewhat more restricted in smaller lot zones under this proposal.

“Careful research by our planning department has found that houses in the County with ADUs have no more children in the schools than those without ADUs. While some residents have voiced concerns about crowding of rental housing, county data does not support the assertion that properties with ADUs are a source of the problem.

“Separate research has also found that allowing ADUs will advance racial equity goals. I intend to follow up on that opportunity with additional measures.”

As amended ZTA 19-01 allows detached ADUs or backyard cottages in the R-60 (residential) and larger lot zones and removes the requirement that only properties of one acre or larger may have a detached ADU. Interior units would be limited to 1,200 square feet (unless the footprint of the basement is larger than that size and the basement is proposed for the ADU). Detached ADUs would be limited to ten percent of the lot size.

For example, a 6,000 square foot lot could have a detached ADU no larger than 600 square feet, and 1,200 square feet would be the maximum size allowed. This would limit the size of detached structures, particularly in smaller lot zones

Parking requirements would remain the same as those found in existing Montgomery County law for ADUs located more than one mile away from any Metrorail or Purple Line Station. Generally, an ADU applicant must build an additional parking spot or receive a waiver based on a finding by the hearing examiner that there is available on-street parking. Within one mile of such stations and within the boundaries of the City of Takoma Park (as requested by the City), there would be no additional on-site parking requirement for an ADU.

For more information about ZTA 19-01 as recommended by the PHED Committee, see the attached fact sheet or Council staff report.

Residents can also send their comments to the Council on this issue at
County.Council@montgomerycountymd.gov or via social media using #MoCoTinyHouse.

Questions about the Committee recommendation may be directed to Council Attorney Jeffrey Zyontz at jeffrey.zyontz@montgomerycountymd.gov. Questions for Chair Riemer may be directed to Chief of Staff Ken Silverman at ken.silverman@montgomerycountymd.com.

Fact Sheet

Backyard cottages: Detached ADUs would be allowed in areas of the County that are zoned R-60 (residential) and larger lot zones. ZTA 19-01 removes the requirement that only properties of one acre or larger may have a detached ADU.

Unit size and lot coverage: The size of an ADU would be limited to 1,200 square feet (unless the footprint of the basement is larger than that size and the basement is proposed for the ADU). Detached ADUs would be limited to ten percent of the lot size. For example, a 6,000 square foot lot could have a detached ADU no larger than 600 square feet. This limits the size of detached structures, particularly in smaller lot zones.

Parking: The current parking requirements for ADUs located more than one mile away from any Metrorail or Purple Line Station would remain the same. Generally, this means that an ADU applicant must build an additional parking spot or receive a waiver based on a finding by the hearing examiner that there is available parking on the street. Within one mile of such stations and within the boundaries of the City of Takoma Park there would be no additional on-site parking requirement for an ADU.

Distance restriction: The requirement that no ADU may be built within 300-500 feet of another ADU was removed.

Setbacks and height: Existing setback and height requirements for accessory structures were retained. This allows existing accessory structures including garages, guest houses (without a kitchen), offices, studios, and sheds. Setbacks for new ADUs would be the same as existing setbacks for accessory structures; however, an ADU that is 32 feet in length or shorter (i.e. container size) would not be required to have an increased setback.

Existing structures: Current law allows backyard structures like garages, guest houses, pool houses, offices, and sheds. In older neighborhoods, existing structures were often located closer to the lot line before modern zoning standards required setbacks. These could be converted to ADUs with some restrictions, if they were built legally at the time. For example, no new window would be allowed facing a neighboring property and adding height or expanding the footprint would trigger setback requirements matching new structures.

Additional rental prohibition: The proposal retains the prohibition on any other rentals on a property where an ADU is licensed.

Short-term rental prohibition: A property with an ADU license may not also have a short-term rental license (i.e., Airbnb) and an ADU cannot be used for short-term rentals.

Owner occupancy: As is the case under existing law, there is an ownership-occupancy requirement for a license.

Occupancy limit: The proposal retains the current ADU occupancy limit of two adults (and their children). New construction: The requirement that a new house cannot be constructed with an ADU already in it was removed, which would enable owners to design a new house with this feature.

Future Legislation
In addition to ZTA 19-01, the PHED Committee identified several additional provisions that will need to be modified in a subsequent bill amending the licensing section of the Montgomery County Code. These include:

  • The applicant for an ADU license must certify that they have reviewed their home owner association (HOA) rules and that an ADU is allowed by those rules.
  • Revise the ownership requirement in licensing to allow the owner to live in either the main home or the ADU.
  • Change the name of accessory apartments to accessory dwelling units to match the standard terminology in other jurisdictions.

Further Discussion
Many important issues emerged during the ADU discussion and will be presented for Committee discussion in the future. They include:

  • Racial equity analysis: An outreach plan will be developed to include low-income communities, so all residents are aware of the opportunity to build ADUs and ways to expand financing options for homeowners of all incomes.
  • Objection process: The current licensing law (unchanged by ZTA 19-01) allows a neighbor to object to an ADU based on a claim of insufficient parking, even if the applicant has met the parking requirement in the code. The hearing examiner can apply additional requirements or reject the application.
  • Enforcement staffing and budget: A review of staffing in the Department of Housing and Community Affairs will occur to make sure that applications are processed in an efficient manner and that inspections and enforcement measures are robust.
  • An evaluation will occur to review how fees will be used to support ADU code enforcement and outreach.
  • The Committee will also review if there needs to be a fee waiver provision for ADUs constructed for individuals who have disabilities.