In the University Park neighborhood just north of USC, Katherine Guevara and her husband, David Guevara Rosillo, are building a home that will subtly evoke a California Craftsman, with a pitched roof, porch posts and light ornamentation.
Inside, a burst of colors and patterns reflects the textiles and murals of Guevara Rosillo’s roots in Guayaquil, Ecuador, as well as inspirations such as Frida Kahlo’s La Casa Azul in Mexico City. Green, red, orange, blue and yellow walls and floors will be complemented by a modern Ikea kitchen and bold touches like multichrome Cirque pendant lamps by Louis Poulsen.
“We think life should be full of color,” Guevara said. “It will be stunning.”
The home also will carry symbolic significance: It’s the launch of a project addressing L.A.’s affordable housing crisis. The couple are participants in the Backyard Homes Project, which hopes to bring innovation to a field where it’s often hard to come by.
Thanks to recent state measures easing regulations on accessory dwelling units — a.k.a. ADUs, or granny flats — Los Angeles has been in the throes of an ADU mania. Thousands of applications have poured in from homeowners across the city, and the ADU has proved to be a lab for housing experiment.
Some companies, like L.A. Based United Dwelling, are offering free ADUs in homeowners’ backyards in exchange for a share of rent. Others are offering modern design or modular construction. An Oakland-based company called Mighty Buildings is even creating 3D-printed ADUs.
The premise of the Backyard Homes Project is to create a one-stop shop: Homeowners like Guevara and her husband promise to rent their ADU to a Section 8 voucher holder for a minimum of five years. In exchange, the homeowners receive affordable design and construction, free project management and favorable financing.
The project is led by LA Más, a nonprofit run by architects, designers and planners who specialize in urban design innovation and aim to blaze a path for more cautious government and industry to follow. The group helped Los Angeles demonstrate the potential for ADUs in 2017 with a pilot project, building a Craftsman-inspired dwelling in Highland Park with a group that included Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Innovation Team and Habitat for Humanity.
For the Backyard Homes Project, they are joined by others, including nonprofit builder Restore Neighborhoods L.A., nonprofit lender Self-Help Credit Union and the community development investment company Genesis L.A. Funding for the project comes from the Wells Fargo Foundations, the Ralph M. Parsons Foundation and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, among others, as well as the nonprofit Los Angeles Local Initiatives Support Corp.
The goal of the program, said LA Más Co-Executive Director Elizabeth Timme, is to confront high housing prices, displacement and lack of economic diversity, not just by making ADU rentals affordable but also by lowering the barriers for low- or moderate-income owners to become landlords, generating long-term income.
“What does economic resilience look like?” Timme asked. “What does it mean to make residents developers?”
Timme and her co-director, Helen Leung, grew up in areas — Los Feliz and Elysian Heights — that have dramatically gentrified since their childhoods, displacing middle- and low-income residents with more affluent homeowners and renters. The duo want to expand the city’s affordable housing options while helping to break through walls of a notoriously insular and specialized field. Leung spent part of her childhood in a public housing project, the William Mead Homes in Chinatown, so she’s intimately familiar with…