Solving silicon valley’s housing crisis with 10,000 adus gas calculator

That’s why after spending 15 years helping to produce affordable homes in Hale County, Dorr is bringing the lessons she learned in rural Alabama to the Bay Area, eager to try her hand at solving the region’s housing woes. Her goal is to build 10,000 homes in 10 years, by erecting prefabricated granny flats in backyards or on other unused parcels. She hopes eventually to produce these tiny units for less than $100,000 each for homeless or low-income families through Soup, which has tackled issues from clean drinking water in Africa to children’s fitness in East Palo Alto, and now is focused on low-income housing in the Bay Area.

Dorr sat down with this news organization recently outside of a two-bedroom, 700-square-foot granny flat Soup recently built in a Menlo Park backyard for about $250,000 — the organization’s first one — to talk about why backyard units are part of the solution, and the hurdles that still stand in the way of that dream . The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

A Moving to Alabama helped me recognize that the things I really struggled with were kind of ridiculous. I started working with people that never had running water, never had power at their homes, and they were struggling on a very different level — trying to live on $733 a month, which is a disability income. And what I decided to do was help people own homes at that income, and that became the $20,000 house project — small homes or small cottages that people could own at a very low income using a federal loan.

And now that I’m here, back in the Bay Area where I’m from, I really want to make the $20,000 house a reality for families here in the Bay Area — at a different cost. I think everything kind of scales up based on land cost. But what is the least expensive home we can build for a working family to help them stay in the communities where they were raised and where they want to live?

A If we think of each of us as being a partial solution to homelessness, it’s one way we can help. So if I own a home and I’m not utilizing my backyard fully, but recognize that I could house someone who’s on the street in my backyard, that’s a really quick way to increase my income and also help someone else at the same time.

Financing is always kind of a struggle, to figure out how we’re going to pay for it. The other part is how we actually get it done. Sometimes each city and county might have their own requirements that make it hard to get a permit, and nobody has a year of their life to waste trying to get a permit. So finding project managers that can actually be a one-stop shop, where we assess a parcel, somebody goes out and gets the permit, and then working with the local jurisdiction to get the foundation and site work completed quickly — that’s a nice way to get these deployed.

A What we’re doing is proposing that if they’re willing to rent to somebody with a Section 8 voucher, like a formerly homeless family or an extremely low-income family, eventually we’ll be able to offer a decrease in the cost of the unit to do that, by working with cities that might have some affordable housing money. Ideally we start just reproducing quickly and having a team of people that are ready to deploy them. I think always if we can book time in a factory where we can do 10, 20, 30, 100 units at a time it becomes much more cost-effective for the factory to service us.

A I think a lot of us are concerned with density and whether we have the infrastructure to support extra units. We all worry about parking, we worry about the crushing traffic, we worry about can we get utilities to our ADUs (accessory dwelling units.) If the family isn’t using a car and is using public transportation, if they use a bicycle, it makes it a lot easier to have extra homes around without making it a problem for all of us. I think we’re all worried about traffic. None of us want to make that problem worse.

A I think whenever you talk about an ADU unit, you really start with an engineer, an architect, professionals that might be costly. And for a lot of us that are lower-income people or families, that may be a barrier. When you start hiring an architect to design a unit, and you start hiring an engineer and a soils engineer, it gets really complicated. And I think one way to fix that is one-stop shopping. You get your project management with all the trades included with the price of the unit, and it’s a known entity.

A To place an ADU in Menlo Park I need to pay a surveyor three times to come visit the site. And then I have to have my soils engineer, and then I need wastewater retention or drainage on the site, and I need arborists. There’s things you don’t even think about that you’re going to need to pay for. And that’s a really difficult thing for a lot of us that are really living from paycheck to paycheck trying to make our mortgage and trying to make things affordable. It’s hard for us to think about ways to help others when we’re struggling ourselves. So I think as cities and counties get more comfortable with ADUs, it’s all going to become a lot more affordable for us. But I like the direction that our state is moving in, which is encouraging ADUs through legislation.

A The first thing we did, is we kind of assembled a team of subcontractors that could do trades — electricians, plumbers. Every one of them is now getting one in their backyard because they’re so excited about it. Nobody wants to go without.

Past positions: Dorr previously worked as a project manager for Victoria’s Secret Catalogue and BabyGap. She then joined Auburn University Rural Studio in West Alabama as a fellow, and stayed for 15 years helping to develop affordable housing and small businesses in her community.

• Before joining Soup, Dorr was working to jump-start the economy in rural Alabama by backing local businesses. Because the area had a surplus of bamboo, she helped launch businesses selling everything from bamboo skateboards to bamboo paddleboards to bamboo bicycles.