In Los Angeles County, more than 15,000 individuals live in cars, vans, and mobile homes, due to the lack of affordable housing. But, according to CityLabcontributors Anne Brown, Donald Shoup, and Vinit Mukhija, there is a huge, untapped source of affordable housing in the area: garages. By their estimate, about 400,000 single-family homes in Los Angeles have a two-car garage that could be converted into an apartment.
Until recently, Los Angeles prohibited most such conversions, but in 2017, California enacted a law that overrides local prohibitions and allows almost any homeowner to convert their garage into an accessory dwelling unit (ADU). In 2016, before the new state law took effect, Los Angeles issued only 117 permits for second units. In 2018, it issued 4,171 permits, or 36 for every one issued in 2016.
Many single-family neighborhoods have garages that can provide a new supply of small, well-located, and high-quality apartments within walking distance of stores and public transit. Converted garages can house boomerang children, grandparents, caretakers, guests, or friends. Or they can generate rental income to make home ownership more affordable. In San Francisco, one affordable housing developer is planning four garage conversions in the Mission District to make way for low-income residents. Speaking to the Mission Local, Mission Housing executive director Sam Moss conservatively estimated that hundreds of units like these could be created throughout the city. “There’s not a lack of garages,” he said. “There’s a lack of landlords saying, ‘I’m done with car storage.’”
Garage apartments are an example of what has been called “naturally occurring affordable housing,” or housing that is affordable without public subsidies. The residents of NOAH garage apartments will not compete for the existing supply of affordable housing, so the benefits will trickle sideways to everyone in the market for affordable housing.


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