More and more people are turning to this idea of ​​housing for aging parents, but barriers still exist in much of the country.


Janie Morisette taught in Hardin, Montana, for 32 years before retiring in 2019. Her longtime home, with five bedrooms, 2.5 bathrooms and an attached garage, was too home for a 72 year old person. She and her daughter, who lives in St. Paul, Minnesota, decided that Morisette would move to St. Paul and live in her daughter’s backyard.

Morisette calls her new home a “carriage house”. Her daughter says it’s “Janie’s chicken coop” since they moved a chicken coop to make room. City planners and building inspectors refer to these dwellings as “secondary suites” or ADUs.

Morisette and her daughter replaced a small garage behind her house with a new building, the carriage house. The lower level of the $280,000 structure is a two-car garage. Morisette lives upstairs in a nearly 800 square foot one-bedroom apartment; she moved into his house in April 2021 and is paying her daughter’s rent.

The remodeled living space uses universally suitable features – such as lever door handles accessible to people with a wide range of abilities and disabilities – so Morisette can comfortably age in place. She, her daughter and her granddaughters can see each other whenever they want, but each has their own space.

“I love it,” Morisette says. “And when I’m gone, my daughter will have a nice place to rent to someone.”

The multi-generational promise of backyard living in ADUs has long been enticing with the demographics of an aging population. Turning a garage into a small living space or building a guest house in the backyard allows aging family members to stay close to their adult children and grandchildren. They can help each other financially, emotionally, and practically (think childcare and elder care), while maintaining their independence and privacy.

Such gains do not need a lot of space. A Survey 2021 from California ADU owners by the University of California, Berkeley Center for Community Innovation found that most units are isolated; the average square footage is 615 square feet; and the majority are one bedroom apartments (61%).

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The appeal of ADUs

The appeal of ADUs is obvious. But the obstacles to the multigenerational revolution of backyard living have been formidable, ranging from local regulations to neighborhood opposition. Although barriers remain (we will come back to this soon), there is no doubt that several trends have combined and strengthened in recent years to give more momentum to the ADU movement.

“The demand is growing quite strongly,” says Jamie Stolpestad, a real estate entrepreneur and partner in Minnesota. garden houses, which manufactures small prefab dwellings as ADUs (and other uses).

For one thing, the pandemic has caused more people to start evaluating an ADU as an option for aging parents. During the pandemic, many adult children have been unable to visit their aging parents living in congregate settings, such as continuing care communities, assisted living centers and nursing homes. The pandemic experience of trying to avoid the disease has left aging residents of collective care socially isolated and lonely.

“People want mom and dad to be close to home, rather than going to a seniors’ residence,” Stolpestad says.

Another factor is the lack of affordable housing. The housing market is hot, especially after the first months of the pandemic. The median existing home price in March 2022 rose 15% from a year earlier, to $375,300, according to the National Association of Realtors. “People are turning to the ADU option because of the affordability issue,” says Rodney Harrell, AARP’s vice president for family, home and community. “It’s a creative option in the neighborhood where people want to live.”

High house prices and lack of supply seem to be a necessary but not sufficient condition to develop the ADU market. Regulation is also essential. For example, ADUs in California are booming with the Golden State’s astronomical real estate prices. However, the ADU market only took off when lawmakers passed a State Law in 2017 which overturned local zoning restrictions. The rules are uniform across the state, and in most cases you have the right to build an ADU.

The combination of nosebleed home prices and regulatory reform has turned much of the West Coast into an ADU hotbed. The rest of the country is lagging behind.

“Ninety percent of the United States has poor ADU regulations,” says Kol Peterson, owner of Secondary Housing Strategies LLC in Portland, Oregon.

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The last factor is intriguing: the entry of innovative entrepreneurs. The overall price of an ADU varies widely across the country, but $200,000 is a reasonable average. Contractors are looking to drastically reduce the cost of owning the ADU by focusing on building tiny homes, modular housing, repurposed shipping containers, and similar structures. Companies often offer standard plans and design options to reduce costs. Structures are often built inside factories and then assembled on site.

“A number of people are making high-quality prefabs,” says Mark Thieroff, land-use attorney and ADU St. Paul advocate. “The pre-made approach might help.”

Some pioneers in this field think inside the box

Among the innovators is In the box, a St. Petersburg, Florida-based startup that uses recycled shipping containers to build studios, one-bedroom apartments, and two-bedroom apartments. Possible uses include ADUs for aging parents (in anticipation of growing interest, the startup has launched a waiting list.) The containers are not only recycled, but the product is designed as an eco-friendly product. environment, fully isolated and off-grid. living space. Into the Box is far from the only one.

Competition from recycled and prefabricated homes is intensifying. “Prefab and modular construction can reduce those costs quickly,” says AARP’s Harrell. “A lot of promises there. It is a way of reducing certain costs and lowering barriers.

Still, the ADU market remains a work in progress. Local regulations in many parts of the country are still in effect expensive hurdles. Local ordinances may require homeowners to live in the single family home or duplex in order to add an ADU. Municipalities often impose onerous on-street parking restrictions on ADUs. Some areas require the new ADU to build a separate connection to the sewer line on the street rather than tapping into existing home infrastructure.

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Lenders have yet to take the leap

Funding remains an obstacle. A part is simply the total cost. But most ADUs are funded with cash, a home equity line of credit, cash refinance, or some combination. Although work is underway, financial institutions have not really developed products designed specifically for ADUs.

“Unfortunately, there are few loan products available to finance the construction of ADUs, and those that are available often do not go far enough to help homeowners build them,” note researchers from the UC Berkeley Center for Community Innovation in their recent report “Reaching California’s ADU Potential: Progress to Date and the Need for ADU Funding.

ADUs remain too expensive and too many community leaders fail to aggressively promote housing choice for an aging population. The more welcoming experience of California and several other localities demonstrates that the demand for ADU is there.

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The pressure to lower barriers to building and owning ADU will only intensify, thanks to the powerful combination of too little affordable housing and the growing demographics of an aging population.

Chris Farrell is Senior Economics Contributor for American Public Media’s Marketplace. Award-winning journalist, author
from “Purpose and Paycheck: Finding Meaning, Money, and Happiness in the Second Half of Life” and “Unretirement: How Baby Boomers Are Changing How We Think About Work, Community, and Life.” good life”.

This article is reproduced with permission from© 2022 Twin Cities Public Television, Inc. All rights reserved.

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