Why ADUs Are A Great Benefit To Portland Neighborhoods

This article was first published in “Hey Neighbor!” the neighborhood newspaper published by NECN.

Accessory Dwelling Units, or ADUs, are secondary residences that can be built on any residential property in Portland and many of the surrounding communities. As housing costs continue to rise, many neighbors search for affordable housing for themselves or loved ones and ADUs can provide wonderful places to live while being much cheaper than buying a house in today’s market. They are also great ways to earn rental income for homeowners, potentially allowing people to stay on their property even if the neighborhood gets more expensive. In short, ADUs are great investments that help build wealth and provide much needed housing. They can be an important part of creating diverse and thriving communities.

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At Propel Studio we have been working in neighborhoods throughout Portland over the past six years to help people navigate the design, permitting and construction process for ADUs. We find ADUs to be great ways to address our housing shortage, while preserving the neighborhood character that we all enjoy.

Here are a few reasons we think ADUs are a great fit for Portland and something that everyone should consider adding to their property:

  • ADUs create opportunities to provide housing while preserving neighborhood character.

  • ADUs are sustainable, by doubling down on residential areas with existing infrastructure and services (preventing urban sprawl).

  • ADUs give homeowners an opportunity to capitalize on their current investment (their property) to build wealth, provide passive income, and help people plan for retirement.

  • ADUs allow for multi-generational living and aging-in-place

  • ADUs are a popular way to downsize while remaining in the community you’ve grown to love.

  • ADUs can be designed to be low-maintenance.

  • ADUs can be designed to be net-zero energy use - meaning your energy bills could be close to $0.

  • ADUs can be cheaper to build than buying a new house to live in.

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Most of the time ADUs are detached buildings (like a backyard cottage), but an ADU can also be created within a renovated basement, attic, or garage. Each property and family is unique, so we work with our clients to talk through all of the options available and find the best solution to their situation - based on budget, existing conditions of the property, and what their goal is for the new structure.

Like any investment, there are costs associated with these. ADUs are not cheap - we find they cost between $170,000 to $275,000 depending on the size, complexity, quality of finishes, etc. This cost is relatively similar regardless of whether you are building new or renovating an existing space. Renovating basement or garages into an ADU is not necessarily cheaper than building a new as often it is more complex to work within an existing structure. In general, new, detached, ADUs are the simplest to build but we have worked on all sorts of ADUs over the past few years.

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We are passionate about ADUs as they can be economic, social, and environmentally sustainable housing opportunities. If you have any questions or are considering building an ADU, we offer a range of free resources on our ADU page, and free consultations at our office.

To help people financially plan for building an ADU, we have developed a simplified proforma spreadsheet that estimates the project costs that need to be considered. This worksheet allows you to play around with various costs and variables and see the impact on the total project cost.