The Family That Stays Together: Why ADUs are the Perfect Family Housing Option for Loved Ones with Special Needs

San Jose’s affordable housing crisis is hitting families hard, but families with special needs have an even harder time. A limited housing market means that their options may be nonexistent, and living spaces that could be workable may require renovation before their loved one can use them.

No family should have to make the choice between spending money they don’t have, sending a loved one too far away for help, or sacrificing a loved one’s happiness.

Fortunately, there is a family housing option that works for special needs adults and their families: accessory dwelling units. Here’s why ADUs are the perfect solution for families that want to stay together.

California’s Affordable Housing Crisis

California’s affordable housing crisis is hitting families hard, and San Jose is no exception. And while Zillow named San Jose the hottest housing market in the country, it doesn’t seem to be doing San Jose residents any good.

Residents face the prospect of living hours away from their jobs to find affordable housing or finding the money to buy a house–if they can afford to pay rent in San Jose and save up for a $800,000 to $1.5 million house, that is. And while San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo has pledged to build 10,000 affordable housing units by 2022, he faces steep suburban resistance.

In the meantime, many residents weigh their options–moving out of state and away from their families for housing they can afford, or scramble for the limited available options.

Big Tech names like Apple, Google, Microsoft and Facebook have pledged a collective $4.5 billion to combat the housing crisis, but projects funded by the money have been reluctantly approved by city governments only to stall out in court after community group lawsuits.

Governor Gavin Newsom and Mayor Liccardo have both taken the same stance: there isn’t any more land to be had in California, so it’s time to make the most of what’s available. And that means everyone has to step up to the plate.

The Struggle for Special Needs Families

Most families find themselves between a rock and a hard place–incomes disproportionately high for the rest of the country can barely keep pace with the cost of living for a couple, never mind a family. Those with high-paying tech jobs can afford expensive real estate, but that’s not the case for everyone else.

Worse, there just aren’t enough affordable housing units available for everyone who needs them.

For special needs families, the struggle is even worse. Because while many families need affordable housing, the unique housing needs of individuals with special needs means that an already limited market is even more scarce.

Unique Needs for Housing for People with Disabilities

Unlike most families, families who have to account for a special needs relative can’t take any housing unit that becomes available, even if they can afford it. This leaves them with three significant barriers to entry that other families don’t have.


First and foremost is the issue of accessibility.

The unfortunate reality is that most homes are built for able-bodied people. Most people think of stairs, but accessibility is an issue that permeates an entire house.

Doors and hallways, for example, are typically designed for people who walk and are not wide enough for a wheelchair. The way doors attach to their frames is a literal barrier as well–if someone has to hold a door open, they can’t navigate a wheelchair through it as easily.

Kitchens, for example, may not have enough reachable storage for someone who can’t stand up to use the upper cabinets. Bathrooms without low-sided bathtubs, seats, or support bars may be completely unusable for someone with limited mobility.

However, accessibility also extends to the blind and deaf. The space required for deaf people to communicate via sign language is different than speaking people, as it’s visual communication. Two people have to be able to face each other comfortably, which means wider passages and curved spaces. It also means diffuse light so as not to strain the eyes after a long period.


Then there’s the issue of affordability.

Families with a special needs loved one face the same financial crunch as the larger San Jose population–not enough income to keep pace with expensive housing, and not enough space in the housing that is available. However, special needs families face added costs if they want to make a home accessible.

A landlord is responsible for abiding by the Fair Housing Act and ensuring that their properties are compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act. They also need to allow reasonable accommodations and reasonable modifications, but the difference between the two is important for families.

A reasonable accommodation is a change made to a building policy, rule, or practice allowing a disabled tenant to enjoy full use of the property they live in, such as reserving the nearest parking space to the building or allowing a service animal. A reasonable modification is a structural change to the unit, such as adding support bars to the unit.

Modifications are essential for special needs families, but they’re also pricier. Not only does a family have to pay for the modification, but they also have to prove the financial ability to undo any significant modifications to the property that would prevent future tenants from living there once the disabled tenant left.

The only exception is when a modification should already have been in place to make a property ADA compliant, in which case the landlord has to cover the modification. But most of the time, families are the ones footing the bill.

This leaves families in an untenable situation. If they already struggle to make ends meet, they may not have enough room in their budget to afford the necessary modifications for their loved one. On the other hand, they cannot afford to leave the property as it is, either, as this renders it unusable for their loved one.

If an individual is trying to live alone but their disability leaves them unable to work and reliant on Supplemental Security Income (SSI), they’re often priced out of the market before they can even consider modifications.


Last but not least is the issue of discrimination, which applies to individuals with physical and mental disabilities in equal measure.

The Fair Housing Act prohibits a landlord from discriminating against a tenant because of a disability or perceived disability. It also prohibits discrimination against housing applications because of a disabled person associated with them, such as a spouse, relative, or child. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • Blindness or sight impairment
  • Deafness or hearing impairment
  • Mobility impairment
  • Cognitive disabilities
  • Mental illness
  • Learning disabilities
  • Alcoholism
  • Drug addiction
  • HIV status

Nonetheless, discrimination is pervasive. HUD’s Fair Housing Enforcement Office reports that the majority of their discrimination complaints are related to disabled individuals. Individuals with mental illness are regarded with particular wariness, branded as having a high crime potential and thus posing a high risk to the landlord and other residents.

The net result is the same: landlords find reasons to turn away applicants.

Creating a Balance

Then there are issues within your family itself.

Your loved one means more to you than anything, and you want them to live their life to the fullest. Their disability is as much a part of them as their hair color, and should in no way hold them back.

And yet, you have to create a balance.

On one hand, you want your loved one to have the independence they crave. They see other members of the family establishing their own lives and want to do the same. They don’t want to burden their relatives. They want their own space. And you want to see them thrive.

On the other hand, you know that your loved one would benefit from some support. Maybe they struggle with certain tasks like managing money or cooking and need extra guidance. Maybe there are certain tasks they can’t do on their own without assistance because of mobility issues.

Maybe your loved one is largely independent but needs just a bit of structure and support from the family to ensure that they stay on track.

Whatever the reason, you have to find a way to balance independence and support, and San Jose’s housing crisis has stacked the deck firmly against you.

There’s also the prohibitively expensive cost of supported living. The national median cost for assisted living is about $4,000 per month, or about $133 per day for a total of $48,000 per year. Home health aide services are generally around $127 per day (or $45,769 per year) based on five eight-hour days per week, though intensive care will be more expensive.

If you’re like most San Jose families, you don’t have that kind of money to spare, not with the cost of living being so high already.

What are Accessory Dwelling Units?

Your loved one can’t afford to live in San Jose, nor can they afford to find accessible housing–with the housing market so pressed already, there just aren’t enough options. You can’t afford to pay for accommodations either, and you certainly can’t afford supported living, even if it was an option your loved one wanted.

What is a family to do?

If this sounds like your family, it’s time to consider an accessory dwelling unit.

Accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, are additional living spaces on a single-family lot that are independent of the primary dwelling.

To be clear, this does not mean that an ADU is a completely separate property. It is part of the original property and must be bought and sold as part of the primary property. You could rent an ADU while your family lives there, but you couldn’t rent both the main property and the ADU, and you couldn’t sell the ADU independently of the main property either.

When we say independent, we mean that an ADU is functionally a separate property contained within the primary property. Think of it like an apartment or smaller house in your backyard.

Types of Units

There are four types of ADU units:

  1. Detached
  2. Attached
  3. Junior/Internal ADU
  4. Garage conversion

Detached ADUs offer the most independence. These structures are completely independent of the main property, with their own utility hookups, their own entrance, and no internal connections to the primary property. These could be constructed in the backyard, or you could renovate your detached garage (garage conversion).

Attached ADUs are slightly closer to the main residence, in that they share at least one wall and shares utility hookups. However, they have completely separate entrances and no internal connection between the units–you would have to go outside of the main residence to enter the ADU.

Junior or internal ADUs are like attached apartments. They’re fully integrated into the primary residence, such that someone walking by on the street may not know there was an ADU. If you think of a basement or attic apartment, that’s essentially a junior ADU–it shares all utilities with the main residence and has internal entrances from the main house.

That said, a junior ADU is not to be confused with a spare bedroom. The space must function as a complete living space to be considered an ADU, including a kitchen and bathroom setup independent of the main residence bathrooms and kitchen.

Why ADUs are the Perfect Family Housing Option

That’s all fine and good, but why are ADUs a superior housing option compared to what’s already on the market?

The simple answer? They’re an investment in your family’s future, allowing you to bring the family closer together and give everyone what they need rather than worrying about what you can and can’t afford in San Jose’s housing market.

Here are a few reasons why that is.

Maximizing the Property You Already Have

As Governor Newsom and Mayor Liccardo have both noted, California won’t have any more land falling out of the sky anytime soon. California already has all the land it’s going to get. So if California is going to solve its affordable housing crisis, it has to work with the land that’s already available.

If you and your family are fortunate enough to have a home in the area, ADUs are the perfect answer to that problem.

ADUs are designed to give you more livable property space built on the property you already have. That way, you don’t have to worry about finding your loved one a place that’s nearby, nor do you have to worry about acquiring new property in San Jose’s cutthroat market–you already have the property you need to make the change.

Building the Home Your Loved One Needs

More than that, an ADU gives you the opportunity to stop fighting the housing market or landlords to find the property your loved one needs. No more worrying about finding an accessible property or convincing a landlord to make modifications (or finding the money to afford necessary modifications).

Instead, you can build exactly the home that your loved one needs from the ground up. Any modification your loved one may need is fair game–after all, you’re the one building it.

You’ll know for certain that your loved one will always have a place they can use for years to come. That’s peace of mind you can’t find anywhere else.

Affordable Housing

Better still, ADUs offer an affordable solution for those who are fighting to make heads or tails of the San Jose housing situation.

If your loved one is worried about affording their own place, they won’t have to worry anymore. Rent to pay off the cost of building an ADU can cover the price of making the ADU in just a few years (assuming that you charge your loved one rent–after all, they’re family).

But even if your loved one insists on paying some rent, it’s still far lower than anything they could find with a landlord.

Plus, the city of San Jose is looking to incentivize homeowners to build ADUs, as city officials are now considering a forgivable loan program to make ADU construction more financially feasible for the average homeowner.

Even without forgivable loans, the city has several avenues to simplify the building process and reduce costs for homeowners. The city now offers an ADU/Single-family Master Plan Program, in which builders and designers can use pre-approved building plans to offer low-cost, expedited approval for homeowners building ADUs. Ask Acton ADU about these plans.

Long-Term Housing Solutions

You want to plan for the future of your family. You also want to ensure that your loved one’s future is secure.

With an ADU, you can do both.

As a family with a special needs loved one, you know that the modifications your loved one needs right now may not be all the modifications or accommodations they’ll need in the future. But you may not be able to afford to make those future investments–especially if you’re not sure whether your loved one will still be in that residence in a few years.

ADUs allow you to build a home that your loved one can use for years and years to come. You can build a residence your loved one can grow in, one that will support them no matter how their needs change over time.

This means that your loved one won’t have to worry about finding new housing as their needs change over the years. They’ll have a home of their own, without worrying about what the future may hold.

A Place of Their Own

Your loved one wants a place to call their own. Not just a room upstairs or a place to stay with you, but a space that’s truly theirs. They want to be as independent as the rest of the family.

The problem is that the cost of housing in San Jose often renders that hope impossible.

From the family’s side, there’s also the issue of finding the right place. You don’t want your loved one to be too far away in case they need help, and you don’t want them too far removed from their normal social circles either. Unfortunately, finding a close location and finding an affordable location are often mutually exclusive in San Jose’s market.

Unless, of course, you build an ADU.

With an ADU, your loved one can have their own independent space, outfitted for their needs. With a detached ADU, for example, they could carry on their life completely independently of the main house. If they want to keep a schedule different from the rest of the house, they could do so without disturbing the rest of the family.

Easy Access to the Family

However, unlike an apartment, the family is still close by. Your loved one is right in the garage, or basement, or the backyard.

They’ll have their own space, which grants them the freedom they crave. But they still have easy access to the family anytime they need help–or even just want company. You won’t have to worry about driving to another town, or even across the city. All you need to do is step outside.

Whatever your loved one needs, whenever they need it, you can be there in the blink of an eye.

San Jose ADUs: Building Your Perfect Family Housing Option

If you’re looking for a family housing option that brings the family together, we’re here to help you make that dream a reality.

We know what it takes to build ADUs, and we know how to do it in a way that reduces risk and maximizes benefits for homeowners just like you. We’ve worked as successful residential builders for 30 years, and more importantly, we’re here to help families like yours find real housing solutions in San Jose that work for your family and your budget.

Ready to turn your house into a true family home? Let’s talk. Click here to talk to an ADU specialist today.

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