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AARP AARP States Rhode Island Advocacy

A Big Push For Small Homes

ADU designs, done by Rhode Island School of Design students, were on display at the State House in January. AARP Rhode Island sponsored the ADU design competition and is pushing a bill to ease ADU permitting restrictions.
AARP Rhode Island

Accessory dwelling units, such as backyard cottages or in-law suites, are often touted as a good housing option for older adults who want to age in place.

But in Rhode Island, some younger minds were recently focused on the benefits and designs of ADUs for a project that also helped educate state lawmakers about such housing options. Last fall, AARP teamed up with students from the Rhode Island School of Design for an ADU design competition.

The students’ projects were then exhibited at the State House in January. AARP hopes it will help build momentum for legislation to ease ADU permitting restrictions across the state.

“We wanted to use the powerful tool of design to show, not tell, lawmakers what ADUs are ... and the array of needs they can be designed to meet,” says Catherine Taylor, AARP Rhode Island state director.

Currently, ADU zoning laws vary significantly from one Rhode Island locality to the next. State Sen. Victoria Gu (D-District 38) sponsored a bill in 2023 to set uniform ADU zoning standards and to require cities and towns to allow ADUs under certain conditions, including on smaller residential lots.

“In the last couple years, we’re seeing a lot of seniors who are in need of housing and who are coming into crisis situations because their rents are going up,” Gu says.

In the competition, the first-place design featured an ADU with a kitchen, bedroom, living area and bathroom. Depending on the lot size and number of occupants, “wings” could be added to the corners of the main structure. Another design included a cluster of five houses with ADUs in each backyard and walking trails connecting them. Learn more about ADUs at

—Michelle Cerulli McAdams

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