Maryland Needs ADUs

By Chuck Kasky
CEO of Maryland REALTORS® and host of the Association’s podcast, “Get Real Estate,” which is available through any podcast app.

Accessory dwelling units (ADUs) are additional living quarters on single-family lots that are independent of the primary dwelling unit. These separate living spaces are equipped with kitchen and bathroom facilities and can be either attached or detached from the main residence. As far back as 2008, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has been exploring how the adoption of ordinances, with reduced regulatory restrictions to encourage ADUs, can be advantageous for communities.  

A recent report commissioned by the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development in 2021 found that Maryland lacks about 85,000 rental units for people earning 30% of the area median income or below. That report also found that Maryland is expected to add an estimated 97,200 low-income households between 2020 and 2030.  

This year, we conducted a statewide poll and found that Marylanders have become increasingly concerned throughout the pandemic about the cost of both renting and buying a home. About 71% of Marylanders surveyed said the cost to buy a home in their part of the state is too high, up 14 percentage points from 2020.  

The same number—71%— also said the cost to rent an apartment in their part of the state was too high, compared with about 61% who answered the same in 2020. Half of those surveyed also indicated that housing availability was a “big or moderate problem,” compared with 35% in 2020. Concern among Marylanders has jumped by double digits on issues related to housing supply. 

In the recently concluded General Assembly Session, Maryland REALTORS® supported Senate Bill 871, sponsored by Sen. Mary Washington (D-Baltimore City) and House Bill 1259 by Del. Lisa Belcastro (D-Baltimore County), which would have required local governments to authorize the development of ADUs on land zoned for single-family residential use and would establish as state policy their promotion and development. The bills did not pass, but we are strongly committed to the proposition that property owners are entitled to choices when it comes to housing and use of their land. In our poll, 76% of voters favored making it easier for Maryland homeowners to have an ADU on their property.  

As expected, the bills drew opposition from local governments and the Maryland Association of Counties, which argued that local governments worry the bill would provide a mandate and preempt local laws on zoning. They are concerned that a statewide law granting extra development rights would override community considerations on growth planning and not consider infrastructure like roadways, water systems, and school capacity as part of their land use planning, and no statewide rule could fairly reflect those block-by-block conditions.  

Our response is first, legislation can be crafted to allow ADUs while still addressing infrastructure needs. This may take some creative and innovative thinking, but it’s been done in many parts of the country with positive effects on housing supply.  

Second, and most importantly, the current gulf in affordable housing in Maryland means that housing and land use policies across the state haven’t been working as well as they should. If the reason you’re doing something is because that’s how you’ve always done it, that’s not the right answer. If it hasn’t brought forward the results you need, it’s time to try something new. Maryland REALTORS® will continue to advocate for statewide authorization of ADUs, among other approaches to the housing crisis, and will be looking to other organizations to bring ideas to the table, not simply oppose new ideas that challenge the ineffective status quo.