Omaha could open up an entire city to tiny housing

Omaha could open up an entire city to tiny housing

AARP Nebraska announced the winners of its accessory dwelling unit competition at the same time that the City of Omaha Planning Department is finalizing potential new regulations for this type of housing.

An accessory dwelling unit, or ADU, is an additional small house or apartment located on a single-family residential property. If the changes are approved by the City Council, Omaha would allow ADUs throughout the city and not just in the downtown and eastern areas.

“We will have a complete update to the zoning code related to ADUs,” said Eric Englund, assistant planning director for the Omaha Planning Department.

Architectural firms and the city’s permitting and inspection staff also plan to work together, a collaboration that could speed up approval of building permits by pre-approving winning designs, an option called fast-track permitting.

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Once they are reviewed for applicable building code requirements by the city, interested parties can use the designs to build on their property, saving weeks of permit review time and costs by not having to hire an architect for an individual design.

Englund said the city desperately needs more housing, and integrated housing units are an excellent option, especially for seniors.

That’s one reason AARP sponsored the “An ADU for U” competition, which Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture won in partnership with Assistology LLC. The second place went to Straightline Design Inc., and the third place went to Actual Architecture Co. And honorable mention to Macondo LLC. They will be honored at a reception later this month.

“The growing population of seniors in the Omaha area and across the United States is putting pressure on the housing supply for this demographic,” said Todd Stubendyk, state director for AARP Nebraska. “ADUs are an affordable but underutilized housing option that could be the solution for many families.”

One in six U.S. adults was over 65 in 2020, and that number continues to grow, said Meaghan Walls of Assistology, who provides accessibility and inclusive design consulting. There are fewer than 56 million people over the age of 65.

Many seniors have disabilities, and this was taken into account when coming up with the winning design, which includes raised garden beds, access to nature and creative storage options.

“6% of housing in the United States is accessible,” she said. “So there is a disconnect in terms of housing options available to people, and traditional senior living is becoming increasingly unaffordable.”

ADUs are very popular on the West Coast and are just starting to show up in this area, said Daniel Conway, who was part of the four-person design team at Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture.

ADUs are not tiny homes. A typical two-car garage is about 400 square feet. The winning entry is approximately 675 square feet with living, kitchen and sleeping areas. Accessible to a person in a wheelchair or walker.

The cost is similar to building a house but on a much smaller scale. A typical unit could cost about $150,000, Englund said.

While providing a place for elderly parents who still want some independence is a big draw, Conway said ADUs are available to everyone.

“It’s for people looking for additional living space on their property,” he said. “They are also used for people who want to rent them out for extra income. They are also a good option for a child who is aging out of your space but still won’t get his feet under him. Or someone who needs part-time care. They can be independent and still have access to Someone to watch them.

Englund said they are still finalizing other standards for the ADUs, which could be built in a basement, over a parking garage, or as a detached unit in the backyard. They aim to have the proposed code ready for the Dec. 6 Planning Board meeting.

He doesn’t expect a rush of new buildings even if they could be built citywide. ADUs have been around in some of Omaha’s older neighborhoods for generations. Zoning code changes that followed the advent of the ORBT bus system in 2020 have opened up more neighborhoods to this type of housing, but no permits have been pulled yet.

“While this option is affordable, it will not be cheap to build,” he added. “However, other cities that have opened these areas have had great success.”


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