HIP Tool: Cottage Housing

Cottage housing developments are groupings of small, attached or detached single family dwelling units, often oriented around a common open space area, and developed with a coherent plan for the entire site. Cottage housing is typically built as infill development in established residential zones and can provide increased density, diversity and a slightly more affordable alternative to traditional detached single family housing.


Cottage housing is effective in medium to higher density single family areas, especially those with larger vacant or redevelopable properties or in neighborhoods built well below maximum density.

Households that locate in cottage housing tend to be demographically different than those seeking traditional single family homes (e.g., smaller households, fewer children, fewer cars), and this is important to consider when crafting a cottage housing ordinance. Consider parking reductions, especially in areas with good transit access. Other issues to address in the ordinance include: density (using FAR instead of dwelling units per acre may be more appropriate), setback and lot size requirement exemptions, and common area/green space requirements.

The increased density and novelty of these developments might be sensitive issues for neighbors. Pair a new cottage housing ordinance with education and outreach strategies that promote understanding of the program. As cottage housing is generally built by private developers, development interest in your community is essential to this strategy’s success. Be sensitive to creating an overly burdensome approval process, which can discourage interest. Communities should consider developing a trial period for cottage housing to ensure that the regulations and process are meeting the community vision for this development type. One bad project that is labeled a “cottage housing” development can stigmatize that product type for an entire community.

Although cottage homes are smaller units, they may not necessarily be less expensive for the developer to construct. Common ownership of open space or single ownership of smaller lots may make the units more affordable in markets with high land values. Combining incentives like density bonuses with this strategy may also be helpful in making the homes affordable to lower income households.

Tool Profile

Focus Areas

  • Expensive Housing Markets
  • Innovative Single Family Techniques

Project Types

  • Single Family
  • Ownership
  • Market Rate
  • Subsidized

Affordability Level

  • 80 to 120% AMI
  • Less than 80% AMI

Housing Goal

  • Diversity