What is an ADU? Why do we need them?
May 1, 2023 | View PDF
An Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) is a self-contained, compact residence with all the basic necessities for day to day living that is on the same property as a single-family home. ADUs come in many forms: backyard cottages, above-garage suites or apartments attached to the main house. Essentially, they are modest but complete living spaces paired with a primary house on the same lot. ADUs typically have a kitchen, bedroom, bathroom and a separate entrance.
ADUs can be a way for older residents to age in place and maintain the social connections that are critical for healthy aging. They can also be a way for younger people just starting out to live in residential neighborhoods where single-family homes exceed their budgets. ADUs can also be beneficial in that they can provide additional income for homeowners, be a place where family or friends can stay while visiting, and they increase property values. As individuals age, ADUs can be a way for them to remain in their neighborhood by building an accessible ADU on the same property to live in when they have limited mobility.
Building housing in existing neighborhoods is critical for Anchorage. Record-high housing costs and low availability are straining even middle-class budgets. For decades, Anchorage land-use policy has favored the single-family residential home, which is the most resource-intensive and expensive form of housing. These policies have crowded out more affordable housing options which has resulted a lack of housing options. In 2021, single-family home sale prices averaged a record-high of $424,252. Individuals who rent often have lower incomes than homeowners, thus they are more impacted by this housing crisis. In Anchorage, median rent went up more than 14% from 2016 to 2022, according to the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation.
NeighborWorks Alaska recently completed a survey of over 500 Anchorage residents and found that ADUs, cottages and other compact housing options received the most support and adding more large single-family housing received the least support in the survey. As housing costs hit record highs, Anchorage will need to figure out new housing options for workers in all areas of the business sector. ADUs can be one way to provide additional housing in a city with limited residential lots left to build on.
While ADUs are only one needed option in Anchorage to solve the housing crisis, it is a good place to start. AARP Alaska worked with a coalition of community members to change the ordinances in Anchorage to allow for more flexible building of ADUs. Most of the changes the Assembly made were to make ADU ordinances be the same as the requirement for single family homes.
The Anchorage Assembly approved changes to Anchorage’s housing ordinances on Feb. 7, 2023, in Assembly Ordinance 2022-107 which amended Title 21 land use regulations. First, just like all residential homes in Anchorage, there will not be an owner occupancy requirement for ADUs. There are now no restrictions on the number of bedrooms an ADU can have. ADUs can be 900 SF or 40% of the principal structure, whichever is larger, with the maximum size of an ADU capped at 1,200 square feet. Detached accessory units taller than 15 feet shall adhere to a 10-foot side setback abutting a neighboring R-1 or R-1A lot and ADUs can only be 25 feet tall except when built over a garage. ADUs can be built on the same property as any other housing unit, including duplexes. Parking mandates were removed for all land uses by a separate ordinance in November 2022.
Fixing the housing crisis will require policies that allow for a wider variety of housing options in all income levels and planning for future housing needs. Older Alaskans want to remain in their homes and neighborhoods but need more accessible and affordable housing. Nearly 70% of Alaska residents age 45 and older currently live in Alaska full-time. An AARP poll from 2020 showed 74% want to stay in their home and another 63% need affordable housing options. In 2021, the Anchorage Economic Development Corporation surveyed seniors and found that 75% want a home under 2,000 square feet. ADUs could be one way to allow seniors to stay in Alaska, continuing to contribute to the community in disposable income, volunteer time and longtime Alaska knowledge.