Permit Ready Accessory Dwelling Units (PRADUs) are one way Renton hopes will help ease the region’s housing crisis, as evidenced by historic shortages in inventory and skyrocketing prices.
Underscoring the need to create more inventory is Washington’s last place ranking among 50 states when comparing the number of housing units per household. While nationally there are 1.14 housing units per household, counties around Puget Sound fall below that at 1.04 to 1.05, according to U.S. Census data and reports from the state Office of Financial Management.
Those same sources compared the number of housing units built per new household formed from 2010 to 2020. Among Puget Sound counties, Kitsap had the fewest at 0.55. Pierce was at 0.81, and slightly better were Snohomish (0.85) and King (0.91).
Renton launched its PRADU program last year, saying it “intended to create affordable, flexible housing opportunities that take advantage of the City’s existing infrastructure while addressing the need for increased housing choices that reflect changing lifestyles and environmental concerns.” Another goal is to control sprawl.
To promote development of ADUs, Renton offers residential property owners a selection of eight pre-approved, designed, and engineered ADU model base plans. These dwellings, sometimes known as a mother-in-law unit, granny shack, or backyard cottage, range in size from 415 to 1,000 sq. ft.
Architectural styles also vary so owners can select a design that complements their existing single-family home. From the eight base plans, there are 32 designs that may include lofts, garages, two floors and up to three bedrooms.
(Renton defines an ADU as “An independent subordinate dwelling unit that is located on the same lot, but not within a single family dwelling.” Only free-standing ADUs are allowed.)
Upon selecting a pre-approved plan, applicants work with staff one-on-one to design their ideal site plan and go through a cost-saving, expedited review process.
The program also includes a 25-page PRADU Lookbook (modified in mid-February) with architectural renderings, a list of benefits, incentives, the steps in the application process, fees, and other details.
In a statement from the city of Renton when the ground-breaking program was launched, Chip Vincent, the city’s Community & Economic Development Administrator, said “As the demand for viable housing options grows, ADUs are an exciting option,” adding, “By encouraging this type of infill development, we’re promoting housing stability while efficiently using the city’s existing assets. We have established an efficient process with pre-approved building plans and have waived or reduced most fees. These steps will save applicants a significant amount of time and money.”
Renton’s PRADU team acknowledges obstacles still exist, such as inflated construction costs, technical problems associated with septic systems, impervious surface limits, and land hazards. Katie Buchl-Morales, associate planner with the city of Renton, acknowledges PRADU’s are not a “silver bullet” to the housing shortage, but calls them a meaningful step toward increasing housing. Sam Pace, a housing specialist with Seattle King County REALTORS®, believes Renton’s program “should serve as a model for cities through the Central Puget Sound region.”