“Accessory Dwelling Units” Are Unique and Inexpensive: How Do They Benefit Seniors?

Accessory Dwelling Units

In his 2013 book, How to Retire the Cheapskate Way, Jeff Yeager tells of a couple in Washington state who are planning to age in place by “levitating” or raising their single-story house to accommodate a new apartment beneath it. Yeager recounts how the couple loves their charming, village-like community and would like to stay there indefinitely. As they age in place, they will have several options: to live in the new ground-floor apartment and rent out the rest of their house, or live in the house and rent out the new apartment below. Their choices will reflect their needs and convenience as time goes by.

Such “Accessory Dwelling Units,” as this couple has built, have acquired their own acronym: ADUs. An ADU is a converted space on a property that is self-sufficient and livable. They are sometimes referred to as “mother-in-law” or “granny” units–or “Affordable Dwelling Units.” Some are built into the existing interiors of homes (a basement, attic, or attached garage converted into an apartment, for example). Some are attached to the main building as an addition and others are detached and stand apart from the main dwelling.

Many cities have changed or are changing their regulations or zoning laws to allow ADUs with a minimum of red tape, as they see their advantages. Portland, Oregon, has relaxed ADU zoning laws and codes, especially for detached ADUs. It is a city that has experienced a population boom due to its great “livability”—a quality that is being threatened by the number of people that have moved there! Housing has become scarce and expensive. Creative ADUs, such as colorful sheds, are even being rented out.

Creative ADUs, such as colorful sheds, are even being rented out.

ADUs, as auxiliary housing, should be economical and should save many people in a community substantial sums.

In a 2008 “Case Study”, the U.S. Department of Urban and Housing Development (HUD) encouraged communities to loosen restrictions on many types of ADUs because of their manifold benefits, including the all-around economies they achieve. Citing cities that have simply run out of traditional housing with little room to expand, HUD listed as ADU benefits that they increase a community’s housing supply and property tax base, their affordability for limited-income residence-seekers (students, singles, the elderly, the disabled) and their augmentation of a homeowner’s income, which is especially important for retired persons. They also can be designed or decorated to match or be harmonious with existing architecture, thus preserving the community’s character and appeal and not lowering property values. In addition, they also utilize existing infrastructure, thus saving cities that expense and difficulty. Finally, they maximize existing structures without requiring major revamping of existing zoning laws.

ADUs should save everyone in a community substantial sums.

Affordable, practical housing is a growing concern as the tide of aging Baby Boomers comes on the scene, most of whom favor aging in place rather than an assisted living facility. ADUs are a practical and attractive alternative form of housing, which provides additional income that could make aging in place in a community more feasible.




Accessory Dwelling Units: Case Study. (June 2008). U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Office of Policy Development and Research. Prepared by Sage Computing. Available online at http://www.huduser.gov/portal/publications/adu.pdf.

Accessory Dwellings.org. Available online at http://accessorydwellings.org/.

Yeager, Jeff. (2013). How to Retire the Cheapskate Way. New York: Three Rivers Press, p. 79.