OAKLAND, Calif.—The Bay Area has, for years, been in the midst of a housing crisis. Too many people and too few units have driven prices up to the point that many can’t afford to live here anymore. Zoning laws from the 1960s and ‘70s are partly to blame, as are protests so vociferous that they stall building for years. Many in San Francisco remember, with horror, the urban-renewal project that displaced thousands of residents in the Fillmore and destroyed Victorians there in order to build new housing.
But while the city and locals battle over the construction of new buildings, Brian Burt and his wife Julia are adding density all on their own. They’re about to start construction of a two-bedroom, two-bath unit in their backyard that will be connected to the main house via a raised bridge. When it’s completed, they plan to rent out the unit to tenants. They’re also renovating their basement to create a space for more people who would share their kitchen and bathroom, but have a living room and bedroom of their own.
The Burts are two of hundreds of homeowners in the Bay Area looking at adding so-called in-law units to pull in a little extra income, all while increasing density in a region that sorely needs it. If zoning regulations and complaints from neighbors make it time-consuming and costly to add new apartment buildings and homes in the Bay Area, the thinking goes, why not just add to and renovate existing properties to increase density? That way, the area can keep its beloved Victorian architecture, while still growing to accommodate more residents. The city may be dallying in creating more units. Homeowners are not.