New Age Zoning for Boomers

NYU’s Wagner School of Public Service recently awarded three cities for innovative zoning for accessory dwelling units (ADU). What’s an ADU and why is this important? Read inside to learn how an aging population and your city or town is impacted

What Happened?

Three cities recently passed legislation to allow accessory dwelling units to be built onto existing homes to encourage safe and comfortable aging in place options for elderly residents. The legislation offers guidance on how citizens can bring their accessory dwelling units and homes to the necessary codes when adjusting property for elderly care so as to avoid costly fines.

The Goal

The New York University Wagner Graduate School of Public Service and the Center for an Urban Future recently collaborated on a report highlighting innovative moves being made at the local level across the country. Each selected initiative or legislative move demonstrates a successful effort to change an aspect of society in need of remedying that could be used as the foundation for a project in New York City or other locales nationwide.

The accessory dwelling units projects is an important initiative as the elderly population of the United States is set to increase significantly by 2030, as the baby boomer generation enters retirement and requires more medical care.

Winning Projects

By making accessory dwelling units legal and easily constructed, Seattle, Vancouver and Santa Cruz are:

  • Increasing affordable housing stock in city limits
  • Placing regulations on developments that were once deemed illegal
  • Providing a growing elderly population with options for aging in place rather than moving

Seattle: The ADU project was first launched in 1994 and finally provided with the necessary legislative guidance to be effective 15 years later. The city’s Department of Planning drafted precise design standards, accelerated permit approval speeds and created a competition to inspire affordable ADU designs.

Vancouver: The city relaxed building codes so detached ADUs could be constructed, while basement conversions were legalized as well in 2007. Permits were issued for new homes with secondary suites, and existing secondary suites.

Santa Cruz: The city reformed its building laws by providing loans to homeowners looking to add ADUs to their property. Santa Cruz also created a grace period when illegal units could be brought to code without being fined.

Why ADUs?

A Regional Coalition for Housing define an accessory dwelling unit as a secondary suite to a house that includes a kitchen, bathroom and bedroom. ADUs can be attached or independent of existing property, but enable inhabitants to benefit from a close proximity to residents of the primary house. Residents that opt to build an ADU may enjoy:

  • More space for an elderly relative moving in
  • Increased home security with more people watching the property
  • Additional value to the home
  • Extra income for other homeowner obligations

Furthermore, allowing for ADUs in municipalities can add density to single family neighborhoods without altering the design of the community. Housing goals are more easily achieved in growing populations when ADUs are legalized and coding is adjusted to support such construction. According to the Puget Sound Regional Council, ADUs can be beneficial to towns of all sizes. The construction offers alternatives to apartment complexes while adding housing choices for prime residential zones.

In The Zone

Gov1 has also reported on adjustments to zoning regulations to support urban farming and boost downtown economic activity.