Here is an update on the Zoning Code Commission’s aging in community recommendations with regard to Accessory Dwelling Units. Fortunately these units are being recommended into the code, unfortunately, the regulations will be very restrictive and will not be applicable to the majority of the seniors here in Philadelphia. If you are familiar with the concept – skip to the “Recommendations” section where we have made some recommendations for you to use when filling out the public outreach survey or emailing the Zoning Code Commission.


Accessory Dwelling Units are subordinate, additional, residences that are constructed within a residential property (often called “In-Law Apartments”). They are used for a variety of purposes. They provide older adults the opportunity to downsize without having to leave the community or go to an institution, and to live in the same building as caregivers. They also provide housing options to a variety of income levels and lifestyle needs, and they allow additional housing units to be created while preserving the character of existing neighborhoods.

173,000 Philadelphians age 60+ are home owners, and 74% of them wish to remain in their current homes for at least ten more years, yet mobility issues and financial difficulties will make this difficult. The growing trend towards multi-generational families living together (also characteristic of many ethnic groups) will also increase demand for these dwellings in the near future.*


Below are the current Zoning Code recommendations in black, comments are in orange. You will see these when you fill out the public outreach survey (please complete the survey – and if you have already, I believe you can do it again – Other contact info –

  1. The code will only allow Accessory Dwelling Units in single-family “detached” houses – Yet 75% of the homes in Philadelphia are row homes ie. “attached”
  1. Accessory Dwelling Units will only be allowed within the interior of a building – Yet many people would like the option to build the unit above a garage or as a cottage in a back yard
  1. Only one entrance to the detached house containing the accessory dwelling can be located on a side of the house that faces a street (unless more than one such entrance existed before the accessory dwelling was created) – How would this work if the Accessory Dwelling Unit was in a row home?
  1. The accessory dwelling does not exceed 650 square feet – Would a percentage of the property be better? For example, in Portland, OR their ordinance states: Maximum size. The size of the accessory dwelling unit may be no more than 75 percent of the living area of the primary dwelling unit or 800 square feet, whichever is less. The measurements are based on what the square footage of the primary dwelling unit and accessory dwelling unit will be after the accessory dwelling unit is created.**
  1. At least one paved off-street parking space be provided for the Accessory Dwelling (in addition to the off-street parking required for the principal property) – Yet many seniors do not drive – and even if they do drive, the majority of row homes do not have off street parking In Portland’s ordinance they write: No additional parking is required for the accessory dwelling unit.

Please fill out the survey and express your concerns. Also – please support the addition of Adult Day Care as a new use in the code. , Other contact info –

*Data Comes from the 2008 PHMC Community Health Survey. All numbers are estimates.

Of the 173,000 Philadelphians age 60+ who are home owners, 25% report having some difficult with walking (27% report using a cane and 26% report using a railing) and another 46% report it is very difficult or somewhat difficult to cover their housing costs. Older Philadelphians are increasingly likely to live in households of three or more persons. To some extent this reflects the poor economy, but it also reflects the growing diversity among the city’s seniors. Some ethnic groups prefer living in multi-generation households. Of all city households that include at least one senior 21% are made up of three or more people. Among older Asians in Philadelphia, 46% report living in households of three or more people.


Additional Reading:

AARP’s Report on Accessory Dwelling Units


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