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Black Boxes and Gray Spacs: how Illegal Accessory Dwellings Find Regulatory Loopholes

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Title: Black Boxes and Gray Spacs: how Illegal Accessory Dwellings Find Regulatory Loopholes
Authors: Lau, Questor Lau
Advisor: Miao, Pu
Issue Date: May 2014
Abstract: Honolulu has one of the highest costs of living and the most unaffordable real estate (relative to income) in the nation (NILHC 2014) (Performance Urban Plannning 2012). Meanwhile, the current state of regulation in Honolulu is like a Black Box: perceived as slow, confusing and uncertain. In response, communities manifest Gray Spaces such as Illegal Accessory Dwellings (iADUs). Symbolically and physically, the ubiquity of iADUs lies in their agility to circumvent Black Box restrictions while preserving owner and users’ flexibility of use. When homeowners obtain permits for rooms labeled as “TV” or “Rumpus Room” and then (without a permit) convert the use of these spaces into an independent dwelling unit, they are cultivating ambiguity, using gray areas within the zoning code as a form of urban-economic resilience. Thus, when urban plans do not meet the needs of the community, homeowners respond by finding loopholes in land use regulations, using these types of living arrangements to create needed rentals (Reade and Di 2000). This paper highlights one such irony created by this semantic game: a structure can be built-to-code, but how it is used – can still be illegal. For example, when a floor plan is designed with a separate entry and kitchenette, it strongly suggests an eventual use as a separate dwelling unit. Thus, the rate at which Illegal Accessory Dwellings are created can be estimated by quantifying such suspicious floor plans. From 2005-2012, Illegal Accessory Dwellings comprised a low of 30% up to 46% of all new residential dwellings units created (not counting apartments and hotels). The highest rate of production was in 2008, during the Great Recession. Thus, this paper suggests that not only do Illegal Accessory Dwellings contribute a substantial number of units to the overall housing supply but also that homeowners increasingly rely on them during poor economic conditions. This research also serves as an example of how big data (ie. building permit information) is transforming people’s ability to understand their communities and how GIS maps can help spatially visualize data, thereby bolstering civic engagement. This paper also raises issue of US Census undercounting of “housing units”. Given the significant number of this type of housing, new methods that enable researchers to more accurately portray actual vs planned density, could potentially shift the official landscape of urban growth, infrastructure, and resource allocation. Research methods include correlational research, GIS mapping and case studies to explain how homeowners circumvent the rules.
Pages/Duration: 202 pages
Appears in Collections:2014

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