Palo Alto architect designs 'plug-in' accessory dwelling unit

South Bay group works to make accessory dwelling units more affordable

PALO ALTO - California's housing crisis has innovators thinking outside the box to come up with solutions from many angles. In Palo Alto, one architect has a novel plan to help multigenerational households.

Accessory dwelling units have become popular as new state laws have made it easier to get permits for ADU's. But many families find that option to be too expensive. One group in the South Bay is making housing more affordable, by offering up a service, free of charge.

Architect Derek Ouyang and his team are making tweaks to their "plug-in" garage A-D-U conversion kit called Aduo.

"Each piece can be disassembled and carried by just a couple guys. You can snap them all together on site like a Lego kit of parts," said Ouyang.

It could be the solution for Mele Heimuli's family living in East Palo Alto. She wants to build an affordable A-D-U after her brother's family, mother, and grandmother shared a small living space for too long, before her death.

"It ended up being five years of her having this as her room," said Heimuli's daughter Mele Latu.

The number of Americans living in multigenerational family households in 2021 is about four times larger than it was in the 70's according to the Pew Research Center.

Aduo's blueprint is for any homeowner to build a garage ADU, for under $100,000. To better understand Ouyang's vision, KPIX-5 visited the East Palo Alto warehouse, and watched how they're building these "kits".

"We're saving time and making a design that can be repeated over and over again," said Ouyang.

"It's really easy to assemble it and transfer it from place to place," said general contractor Jesus Cruz of J & Sons General Construction.

What also cuts down the cost, is the non-profit's open-source model. The architectural drawings, instruction manuals, and educational videos will be posted on its website for free. Ouyang acknowledges a garage conversion will take longer than a drop-in prefab. But a backyard ADU typically costs hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"I started to wonder how can legal garage conversions become the most affordable and accessible form of housing solution in the Bay Area," said Ouyang.

Team Aduo recently finished their first project for that North Fair Oaks family. Cameras documenting the months-long journey, captured the moment mom and daughter saw their new home for the first time.

"It's an incredible feeling to see a prototype actually provide such immediate value to a homeowner who really needed this for her mom," said Ouyang.

As for Mele's family, they're not ready to make payments yet, but have renewed hope building an Aduo is doable and closer to reality. The Facebook Housing Innovation Fund made the Aduo initiative possible.

Aduo is focused on the neighborhoods of East Palo Alto, Belle Haven, and North Fair Oaks. Qualifying families can receive a CalHome Loan with a low-interest rate to help build an ADU. CalHome loans up to $80,000 for ADU creation to households at or below 80% of the Area Median Income.

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