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Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU) Smart Growth / Smart Energy Toolkit What is an ADU? An Accessory Dwelling Unit is a secondary housing unit on the same property as a main residence. ADUs are also called accessory apartments, in-law apartments, family apartments, or secondary units.

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accessory dwelling units adu
Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU)

Smart Growth / Smart Energy Toolkit

what is an adu
What is an ADU?
  • An Accessory Dwelling Unit is a secondary housing unit on the same property as a main residence.
  • ADUs are also called accessory apartments,

in-law apartments, family apartments, or secondary units.

  • ADUs are not duplexes :
    • Size of ADU is subsidiary to the main residence
    • Owner of ADU usually lives on the property
  • ADUs are self-contained
why consider an adu bylaw
Why consider an ADU bylaw?
  • Shrinking household size
  • Rising real estate costs
  • Aging population
  • Neighborhood stability
  • Character of neighborhoods
  • Environmental benefits
what does it do for you
What does it do for you?
  • Municipality:
    • Increases tax revenue
    • Minimizes subsidies required for affordable units
    • Maximizes use of existing infrastructure and services
    • Keeps growing and aging families together
    • Preserves existing homes and historic structures
    • Promotes safe and stable neighborhoods
who benefits from adus
Who benefits from ADUs?
  • Homeowners – rental income
  • Middle-income tenants – more units
  • Local businesses – employee housing
  • Real estate firms – rental stock
  • Residential contractors – remodeling
  • Lending institutions – home improvement loans
affordable adus
Affordable ADUs
  • Local Initiative Program can be an instrument for affordability
  • ADU qualification conditions for MA Subsidized Housing Inventory (SHI)
    • Unit approved by local bylaw and DHCD
    • Unit occupied by income-eligible tenant

(≤80% of area median income)

    • Unit rented at affordable price over term of control
  • For SHI details, contact Department of Housing and Community Development at
who typically chooses to build adus
Who typically chooses to build ADUs?
  • Older singles/couples
  • Middle-aged "empty nesters"
  • Younger singles/couples
  • Single working parents
  • People who travel often
how and where are adus built
How and where are ADUs built?
  • Apartments in single-family homes
  • Additions to homes
  • Conversion of garages or barns
  • Free-standing cottages
  • Designed into new construction
adus and neighborhood type
ADUs and Neighborhood Type

Traditional Neighborhood Blocks


  • Shallow lots, with or without alley
  • Carriage houses and garages at the back of the lot
  • Original carriage houses small single bay buildings
  • ADUs sited along alley frontage or rear property line
adus and neighborhood type10
ADUs and Neighborhood Type

Transitional Neighborhood Blocks


  • Pre-war grid blocks with pre- and post war housing
  • Deep lots
  • Garages located in rear yards
  • ADUs placed within garage zone in rear yards
adus and neighborhood type11
ADUs and Neighborhood Type

Suburban Neighborhood Blocks


  • Cul-de-sac blocks
  • Small yards
  • Parking in front of lot with 20’ driveway parking
  • ADUs sited in rear lot areas on bigger lots and/or garage conversions
regulation of adus
Regulation of ADUs
  • Zoning ordinance/bylaw
    • Specifies ADU conversion standards
  • As-of-Right
    • For interior alterations
  • Special Permit
    • For exterior changes and out buildings
  • Licensing
    • Periodic appraisal of ADU via renewal or for change in ownership
summary of adu benefits
Summary of ADU Benefits
  • Creates new housing using existing infrastructure and services
  • Reduces energy consumption
  • Generates community dollars through home equity
  • Reduces costs for the elderly
  • Preserves housing stock and neighborhood stability
selected ma communities with adu bylaws
Selected MA communities with ADU bylaws
  • Case studies
    • Pelham, rural community
    • Lexington, suburban community
    • Northampton, urban community
additional information
Additional Information
  • MA Housing Partnership (MHP)
  • MA Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD)
  • Background on Subsidized Housing Inventory
  • Older Americans Act
additional information21
Additional Information
  • ‘Taking the Initiative – A Guidebook on Creating Local Affordable Housing Strategies’, CHAPA and MHP, Chapter 3, pp. 49-51 (March 2003)
  • ‘Granny Flats Add Flexibility and Affordability’, New Urban News Ithaca, NY, New Urban Publications, (2001)
  • ‘Accessory Apartments’, Leo L. Cram, Missouri Gerontology Institute, University of Missouri (1993)