Help Make ADUs Legal in Philadelphia!

Posted on 10/27/21

Success in bringing accessory dwelling units – known as ADUs – to the City of Philadelphia is finally within reach, thanks in part to a push by residents and concerned groups, including AARP.

An ADU is a small, self-contained home with its own kitchen, bathroom, and sleeping area, located on the same lot as a main (or ‘primary’) house. While the term is new, the structure type dates back to at least colonial times in the U.S. ADUs can be created through basement or garage conversions, additions, or new construction in the back or side yard.  Regulations on size, height, location, and design ensure that they tuck discreetly into the fabric of the surrounding neighborhood; often, they’re invisible from the street. As a means of matching housing needs for people of a wide range of ages, incomes, and personal situations, ADUs can address many of Philadelphia’s housing challenges.

Yet decades of efforts to persuade City Council to allow ADUs have been met with mixed success. In 2012 City Council passed language legalizing ADUs in the zoning code overhaul package but didn’t specify where they’d be allowed, rendering the passage ineffective. Seven years later it passed a bill allowing accessory dwelling units only in historically designated properties, but no ADUs have yet been permitted under this code. And in early 2021 City Council took another stab at expanding the reach of ADUs, but only ended up allowing them in less than half of the City.  Although ADUs hold promise to help address Philadelphia’s affordable housing crisis, as they are in cities across the country, Philadelphia needs to be a bit bolder in its approach to ADUs.

That’s why AARP has joined with local residents to make ADUs a viable housing choice in Philadelphia. For ADUs to really take off here, we need to allow this form of accessible, sustainable, age-friendly housing citywide. For ADUs to really take off in the city, we need an updated city ordinance to allow them citywide. Minor changes made since 2012 to Philadelphia’s ADU ordinance still don’t address today’s needs, and the ordinance needs major revisions to allow for more accessible, sustainable, age-friendly housing.

AARP has put together a number of publications to inform residents about the effort to persuade City Council to fully sign on to the issue of making ADUs a reality for Philadelphia residents.

If you agree that ADUs can serve as one affordable housing solution in the City of Philadelphia, please sign on by November 27 to help get them approved! Add your voice today, and get involved in the cause to support a citywide Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) housing ordinance for Philadelphia that can help meet the needs of residents of all ages and incomes. Once you sign, your organization name will be included on this Letter to Mayor Jim Kenny and City Council.

More from AARP in Philadelphia

Upcoming AARP Events

View All AARP Events »


Find information about getting a COVID-19 vaccine in your state. CDC information is available at cdc.gov/coronavirus; additional AARP information and resources are at aarp.org/coronavirus. En español, visite aarp.org/elcoronavirus.

AARP Member Card

Join or Renew Today

JOIN FOR JUST $16 A YEAR

  • Immediate access to your member benefits
  • Discounts on travel and everyday savings
  • Subscription to the award-winning AARP The Magazine
  • An ally on the issues that matter most to you in Philadelphia
  • Free membership for your spouse or partner
JOIN NOW