Highlighting Philadelphia

ADUs in Philadelphia: Flexible, Adaptable, Beneficial

Posted on 10/07/21

They’re called everything from “tiny homes” to “granny pods,” but by any name you want to use, accessory dwelling units (ADUs) could address a host of issues for older residents of Philadelphia.

ADUs are small, self-contained homes with their own kitchens, bathrooms, and sleeping areas on the same lots as main houses on each property. While the term is new, the structure type dates back to at least colonial times in the U.S., and they can be created through basement or garage conversions, additions, or new construction of back yard structures.  Regulations on size, height, location, and design ensure that they tuck discreetly into the fabric of the surrounding neighborhoods; often, they’re invisible from the street.

ADUs are flexible and adaptable, and they can benefit Philadelphia residents in multiple ways:

  • Match housing needs at any age. ADUs offer empty nesters and seniors the chance to “age in place” in the community they know and love, multi-generational families a way to live close by but not share a kitchen, and young individuals and couples an entry-level housing choice.
  • Income stream and property value.  ADUs can generate cashflow and increase the re-sale value of the property.
  • Affordable housing. ADUs help keep housing costs down for both owners and renters.  They can generate rental income to help homeowners cover mortgage payments, allowing them to stay in their homes. And smaller homes have lower ongoing utility bills and maintenance costs.
  • Versatility. Needs change over time, and the uses of ADUs can (and often do) flex for different stages of life. Although they typically provide long-term housing, ADUs can also serve as home offices, caregiver or nanny housing, art studios, short-term rentals, and lodging for visiting friends or relatives.
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Importantly, ADUs aren’t limited to older residents; while empty nesters looking to age in place could certainly benefit, they’re also a great option for young people looking for entry-level housing choices, families with young children, individuals in need of care, homeowners looking for rental income, home-based workers and others.

In 2012 City Council passed language legalizing ADUs in the zoning code overhaul package, but without an accompanying map to indicate where they’d be allowed, this had no practical impact. And in 2019 Council passed a bill allowing accessory dwellings for historically designated properties, but to date ADUs haven’t been featured as one of the affordable housing crisis solution for the city. Earlier this year City Council took another step toward permitting ADUs in more places, but several Councilmembers blanked the changes in more than half of Council districts, axing from consideration portions of the city with the greatest ADU potential.

You can help make ADUs a reality in Philadelphia by joining with AARP in fighting to include them in our city. Learn more about ADUs and access the free publications ABC’s of ADUs Guide and ADUs Model State Act and Local Ordinance here, or contact Yocasta Lora at ylora@aarp.org.

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