The Greensboro City Council discussed how to encourage more accessory dwelling units, often called mother-in-law flats, in the city at a work session last week.

One of the stated goals of the City Council is for the city to have an “adequate supply of attainable housing options.”

Currently, Greensboro has a housing shortage and some cities with similar housing shortages have reportedly had success by making it easier to build accessory dwelling units.

An accessory dwelling unit can be either part of the principal building or a detached accessory building that is “secondary and incidental to the use of the property as single-family residential.”

Currently, accessory dwelling units are allowed in all residential zoning districts, but, like any other structure, they have to meet the standards such as setbacks established in the zoning ordinance.

According to the report at the work session, one of the issues staff is looking at is the current requirement that an accessory dwelling unit be a minimum of 400 square feet.

Another issue is the requirement that one off-street parking space has to be provided for an accessory dwelling unit.

The benefits of accessory dwelling units in the staff report are listed as:

  • Range of housing options
  • Aging in place
  • Generate income for property owners
  • Gentle density (Imperceptible in most instances)
  • Incremental infill development

One of the barriers listed is “public perception,” and that seems to be a big one.

City Councilmember Zack Matheny said, “I don’t think people realize that they are legal. I didn’t realize they were legal until the work session.”

At the work session, Planning Department Director Sue Schwartz said that the city has already made some efforts to make building accessory dwelling units easier. She said that the city had required that the electricity for an accessory dwelling unit come from the main house and that has been changed so that an accessory dwelling unit could have a separate electrical meter.

The planning staff anticipates proposing other ordinance amendments sometime this winter for City Council consideration.