Legacy Initiative

Small Backyard Homes Initiative



The Institute for Sustainable Solutions spearheaded an initiative to make it easier and more affordable for Portland homeowners to construct a second house on their property—increasing housing options in a city with some of the fastest rising rents and lowest vacancy rates in the nation.


Called “accessory dwelling units” or ADUs, these small backyard homes can be used by family members or rented out to others in the community. They provide more affordable housing options while reducing pollutants that cause climate change.

In 2018, Matthew Gebhardt, assistant professor of Urban Studies and Planning, and Yael Kidron, Ph.D. candidate in Urban Studies and Planning, conducted a survey of ADU owners and tenants in Portland. The survey was conducted as part of the Institute's Small Backyard Homes Project which is focused on encouraging ADU development for a more sustainable and equitable city. The City of Portland has been a national leader in ADU development, and the survey is the first of its kind—targeting not only ADU owners but those who live in ADUs as well.

Download the report with survey results.

The Institute is working with city agencies, architects, financial institutions, low-income housing providers, and others to develop a simple, affordable, ready-to-go solution for homeowners interested in building an ADU.

The Small Backyard Homes Initiative is focused on

  • Reducing construction costs (most Portland ADUs currently cost about $170,000)
  • Increasing financing options
  • Supporting systems to use ADUs as affordable housing 
  • Streamlining the processes for designing, financing, permitting, and constructing ADUs
  • Assuring there are enough qualified general contractors and builders 
  • Addressing the concerns and issues homeowners have about being landlords


For more information about our Small Backyard Homes Initiative, contact Beth Gilden, bgilden@pdx.edu