Housing Parents in a Pandemic: How About the Backyard?

Major societal upheavals often catalyze changes in housing patterns, said Karen Chapple, the chair of city and regional planning at the University of California, Berkeley. She built an A.D.U. in her backyard during the country’s last major meltdown — the 2008 recession.

“Crises, like the one we’re in right now, propel action,” she said. “It’ll make sense if the pandemic results in a surge in A.D.U. applications.”

Even if the decision to build a unit is spurred by wanting to keep Mom and Dad close during or after the pandemic, there are longer-term upsides as well, Mr. Wegmann said.

“When you look at it as an investment, the rents that these homes can fetch, especially in a hot-market location, are going to pay back the cost of building it much faster than other types of housing,” he said. “From that standpoint, the economics seem like an absolute slam dunk. Why wouldn’t these things just mushroom up by the thousands?”

Mr. Wegmann believes that, in tandem with new laws like California’s, critical mass will make all the difference. “Once the business model has become more standardized and organized, and companies know how to get these projects down and churn them out, that’s when A.D.U.s will really start to boom,” he said.

And, of course, there are social benefits to be had, too. “We’re definitely carrying the cost, but upsides like child care and family meals are invaluable to us,” Ms. Torrado said.

She was hoping for her parents to settle permanently on her property last year, especially since she and her husband welcomed their first baby over the summer, but the virus delayed their move from Puerto Rico. In the meantime, Ms. Torrado’s sister, Lorna, is living in the house that will become their parents’.

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Jonny Richards

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