As Midcoast towns race to ease a widespread housing shortage, local planning departments and advocacy groups are spreading the word about accessory dwelling units, which they hope will be a boon for residents young and old.

About 30 Brunswick residents attended an information session on accessory dwelling units at Curtis Memorial Library last Thursday. Sometimes called “mother-in-law suites” or “granny flats,” ADUs are small units that share a lot with a primary single-family residence. Fitted with kitchens, bathrooms and sleeping areas, they can be in detached buildings or sections of an existing structure, such as a basement or loft above a garage.

During the hourlong forum, held at the prompting of Brunswick’s Housing Committee, town officials laid out the zoning ordinances and building codes homeowners need to consider before pursuing a permit to construct an ADU.

“The Housing Committee (was) trying to get the ball rolling, as far as public input and public outreach,” said Planning and Codes Director Frank Maloney. “I think they want to be sure that people know what you can do already, and they’re hoping that people get interested in things that can help with the housing crisis.”

The Maine Legislature thrust accessory dwelling units into the spotlight this April when it passed L.D. 2003, a sweeping housing bill that included a mandate that all municipalities across the state allow ADUs in single-family lots. The new law will go into effect on July 1 of next year.

Brunswick, one of a handful of communities in the state that already have liberal ADU policies, likely won’t make the smaller units central to its housing plan, according to Economic Development Director Sally Costello. The town’s Housing Committee is currently looking into developing plans for an affordable housing fund that would support larger multifamily projects.


Yet in neighboring Bath, which has less empty land for entirely new builds, city staff and nonprofit group Age Friendly Communities of the Lower Kennebec have been hard at work promoting the city’s new ADU rules, according to City Councilor Phyllis Bailey.

After surveying elderly Midcoast residents in 2021, Age Friendly Communities of the Lower Kennebec determined ADUs could serve older homeowners while putting a dent in the housing shortage, said Bailey, who is a member of the group. By renting their homes and building and living in a smaller apartment designed with accessibility in mind, older adults can earn steady rental income and help draw younger workers and families to the region.

“We started because we just wanted to make this region livable for a lifetime,” Bailey said. “It does us no good at all to pass a law if we don’t educate people about how to use it.”

A small AARP grant has helped fund the creation and distribution of a 15-page guidebook that walks homeowners through the city’s ADU policies as well as the benefits of building an accessory dwelling unit. A series of short videos on Age Friendly Communities of the Lower Kennebec’s website tackles additional topics, like how to finance the construction of an ADU.

It’s not yet clear how many Bath homeowners will take advantage of their new ability to build and rent ADUs, said Emily Ruger, the city’s director of community and economic development. According to the Codes Enforcement office, only three households have applied for permits to build attached units since the City Council passed its ordinance this spring.

Yet Ruger hopes high turnout at several ADU information sessions in Bath this fall was a signal that more units will be coming once homeowners have more time to evaluate their financing and construction options.

“We have certainly gotten more interest than the number of people who have built at this point,” she said. “My phone has been ringing.”

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