A Housing Innovation Known as the ADU is Catching on in Fast Growing Areas of the Country – Will NYC Utilize Them?

NYC’s critical issues surrounding affordable housing persist, with there even being talk of former Deputy Mayor for Housing, Alicia Glen, starting a real estate venture that may include a focus on this area.

A housing innovation known as an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) has been picking up steam in over 8 states and along with zoning/regulatory changes, is being touted as a potential game-changing solution.


An ADU is defined as a “smaller, independent residential dwelling unit located on the same lot as a stand-alone (i.e., detached) single family home,” by the American Planning Association (APA).

The APA further states that they can exist in the form of:

  • Converted portions of existing homes
  • Additions to new or existing homes, or
  • New stand-alone accessory structures

In NYC, they are especially of note in the context of basements.


Some are calling the current Housing situation a crisis.

The Federal government is currently estimating 20,000 more homeless individuals in NYC than the De Blasio Administration for a staggering total of roughly 80,000, which is caused in part by a lack of affordable housing.

Additionally, the New York Immigrant Housing Collaborative (NYIHC), with members such as the Urban Justice Center and Chhaya CDC estimates that roughly 114,000 illegal apartment units were created between 1990 and 2000, showing both the need involved, but also highlighting potentially troublesome issues which include:

  • Dangerous living conditions
  • Overcrowding
  • A scarce supply of affordable housing
  • Inflated housing prices
  • An ongoing affordable housing crisis

According to the NYIHC the problems surrounding unregulated ADU’s have resulted from the growth in population over the past 25 years, which has “dramatically outpaced the number of units that have been built.”


Also known as ‘accessory apartments,’ and ‘secondary units,’ ADU’s have the potential to increase housing affordability for both homeowners and tenants

The NYIHC agrees with this in a report they issued, stating that the use of ADU’s can increase affordable rental housing stock.

They also feel that they would allow more renters to live in preferred communities that are more accessible to their work locations.

From a property owners perspective, the feel that ADU’s could provide supplemental income, housing for extended family and/or personal use and increase home value.


A key barrier to the use of ADU’s are the currently existing zoning regulations in NYC and elsewhere.

A challenge in terms of our City’s adaptive capacity in resolving the affordable housing issue can be noted here in the form of differing views held by residents.

This is an especially acute issue in outer boroughs where residents in neighborhoods with less density often seek to preserve the character of those neighborhoods, with the NYIHC noting that the differing views at times reach the level of neighborhood tensions.

The lack of affordable housing and the resulting ADU’s created out of compliance with current regulations, often called ‘illegal threes, or ‘mother/daughter units’ have also become a burden on the City’s Inspections and Court Systems. 


The potential benefits of ADU’s to the City are clear and groups like the NYIHC would argue critical, given the safety issues caused by unregulated units and by increased and prolonged homelessness.

NYC’s related Pilot Program to legalize/convert basement apartments will be explored in a future article and it is clear that our city’s Housing problems must be addressed in a major way.

A lack of affordable housing certainly impacts the competitive advantage of our City’s ecosystem and threatens the economic well-being of future generations.

Categories: Industry Analysis & Updates, Next Generation Impact, Our Communities & Social Entrepreneurship, Smart Cities

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