By LORI PRICE ABRAMS
Special to Montclair Local
Diversity, a core value of Montclair, is being strained by the rising cost of housing in our town. The very qualities we most cherish — rich expression of dining, cultural institutions, local shops, great schools and more — are founded upon our cultural and economic diversity. We welcome newcomers attracted to Montclair’s community vibe and offerings, yet housing costs have trended upward, driving the cost of housing beyond that which many residents can afford. That stress on affordability has motivated me to find ways to increase the housing options in Montclair to strengthen our rich diversity.
One option that is being used in other New Jersey towns and around the country is the ADU, or accessory dwelling unit. An ADU ordinance is now on the agenda of the Montclair Township Council as an approach to spur the growth, in a measured and organic way, of modest-sized, naturally affordable housing stock without any government funding.
An ADU is an “accessory” housing structure. It is a smaller dwelling that shares a lot with an existing home, with respectful setbacks from existing neighbors. Because of their smaller size, ADUs are generally more affordable.
The bill defines an ADU as a residential dwelling that provides independent living facilities for up to three people and located within the primary dwelling or as a detached structure on the same lot. The requirement that the owner live in either the primary or accessory dwelling provides security to neighbors that the new renters will be accountable to the owner and to them.
Here are five ways that ADUs will help Montclair:
1 – Housing for seniors who own their homes: The proposed ordinance recognizes that part of Montclair’s diversity is the population of seniors who have raised families, had careers and now wish to remain in place to enjoy the richness of the community they have contributed to. Whether they can no longer afford to remain in their home or just wish to downsize, the ADU offers two pathways to aging in place. They may live in their primary residence, and in the ADU house either an aide or another renter. Or they may choose to reside in the ADU, earning income by renting the primary residence as they enjoy a smaller, more manageable home in their neighborhood.
2 – Housing for aging parents: As our parents age, we worry about their frailty or illness. The proposed ADU ordinance will provide an option for us to keep them close, but they will still maintain autonomy and independence.
3 – Housing for families with special needs: Many of our neighbors have a child or other relative with special needs who can live in the ADU, allowing them to receive caring support while providing them independence.
4 – Young adult housing: ADUs are an ideal way to provide adult children with housing when they are in transition from college or jobs and may not yet be housing-independent.
5 – “Missing middle” housing: Sometimes correlated with workforce housing, ADUs meet the needs of many individuals, some of whom are employed by or are leading our community institutions, who seek affordable options to live in our township’s neighborhoods.
Flexibility is an appeal of the ADU. Any of those uses may be followed by another, making this modest-sized home highly adaptable to the changing needs of a family. Further, each of these reasons shows how the ADU ordinance will contribute to maintaining the character of Montclair, enhancing our ability to retain the diversity that is so greatly prized by those of us who live here (or who wish to live here).
This robust, carefully tailored ordinance for Montclair governing ADUs is aligned with the key reasons that I sought to serve on our Township Council. I am motivated to increase the affordability of Montclair to ensure our rich diversity of residents, and I am committed to finding options for seniors who wish to age in place, so that they may enjoy the community they helped to build while enriching the fabric of our community for all of us. The ordinance to permit building ADUs in Montclair, created with expert contributions of diverse stakeholders, will help accomplish both of these.
The ADU ordinance, which was set for first reading on Wednesday, Sept. 28, is expected for a final vote Tuesday, Oct. 25. The League of Women Voters has created a valuable resource guide, lwvmontclairarea.org, where you can learn more.
Lori Price Abrams is the Third Ward councilwoman on the Montclair Township Council.