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Home Sweet (ADU) Homes

How cookies — actual cookies — can be a tool for creating accessory dwelling units

A chocolate cookie bread house with an ADU

Photos from the Des Moines Public Library

This gingerbread creation shows the facade of the main home and an accessory dwelling unit built as an attached addition in the back.

To raise awareness about the versatility, variety and value of accessory dwelling units (ADUs), the Des Moines Public Library and AARP Iowa teamed up to host a Gingerbread House Contest in which contestants built two homes — a main house and an accessory dwelling.

In early December 2021, interested community members were equipped with a free gingerbread house kit from the library and invited to submit photos of their cookie creations for a chance to win a variety of prizes. (For the 2022 holiday season, volunteers from AARP Pennsylvania replicated the inspiring, sweet solution by entering an ADU example in Pittsburgh's 20th Annual Gingerbread Contest. Scroll down to see a photo of the entry.)

Two cookie houses with accessory dwelling units

Photos from the Des Moines Public Library

The Grand Prize-winning, Dr. Seuss-inspired home has a towering accessory dwelling unit (left, by Des Moines resident Autumn O'Connor). The log cabin with accompanying ADU (right, by Katie Bolte) won "Best Incorporation of the Accessory Dwelling Unit."

“We're helping AARP Iowa get the word out about Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU), which are fully self-contained homes on the same lot as the main house,” the library website explained. “ADUs are commonly known by many other names, including granny flats, backyard bungalows, guest houses, in-law suites, basement apartments, carriage houses, and casitas. ADUs can be an important source of affordable housing to keep housing costs down for both owners and renters.”

Two boxes containing kits for building a cookie house

Photo from the Des Moines Public Library

AARP Iowa covered the costs of the construction kits (created by Molly's Cupcakes in Des Moines, Iowa) and contest's gift card prizes: $300 for the Grand Prize, 10 First Place prizes ($175 cards), three second-place winners ($75) and three third-place awards ($50)

The cookie kits themselves were sourced from Molly’s Cupcakes, a local small business that provided enough construction materials for a regular gingerbread house as well as a smaller house representing the ADU. Linda Railey, a local gingerbread expert, teamed up with librarian Haley Lunde to lead a video lesson (see box) about successfully constructing a gingerbread house. 

ADU Information

Watch the Accessory Dwelling Units 101 webinar hosted by AARP Iowa and the Des Moines Public Library.

Visit the Gingerbread Contest website to learn more about the activity and rules — and to watch a video tutorial about building a gingerbread house.

Among the successful home builders was Des Moines resident Katie Bolte, winner of the "Best Incorporation of an ADU" category. (Her compound is pictured above.) "When my mom retires she wants to get a cabin in the woods," says Bolte. "I'll have a tiny house next to it. We decided to build a little version of our dream!"

A total of 400 kits were made and distributed, resulting in 128 contest entries and nearly 2,500 votes on the contest website. Several dozen residents also participated in a webinar (see box) to learn more about ADUs. One webinar attendee later reached out to AARP for assistance in determining whether Urbandale, a suburb of Des Moines, could update its codes and ordinances to be more ADU-friendly. Efforts in Urbandale are now underway. 

“The activity was an ideal way to raise the visibility of ADUs in a community that is on the brink of updating planning and zoning regulations to make ADUs more attainable for much of the community,” says Alissa Brammer, AARP Iowa Communications Manager.

Elizabeth Hoover de Galvez, who co-led the event with her Des Moines Public Library colleague Lunde, agrees: "This was a dream program for me as a librarian. We were so excited to partner with AARP Iowa to make the custom gingerbread kits available to our community and spread the word about ADUs. We received great feedback from our patrons."

Another Cookie Creation!

Two AARP Pennsylvania volunteers pose with their gingerbread house and adu

Photo from AARP Pennsylvania

AARP Pittsburgh volunteers Beth Tomasovic and Lois Bell

Inspired by the ADU gingerbread house contest in Des Moines, Iowa, AARP Pittsburgh volunteers Beth Tomasovic and Lois Bell led the construction of a creation they've titled "Gingerbread House Featuring an Accessory Dwelling Unit" (pictured).

AARP Pennsylvania has been working with local elected officials, community leaders and city residents to provide information about ADUs as an affordable and accessible housing option that can be used to keep multi-generational families together, enable homeowners to earn income by renting a part of their property, and give people of all ages more options for housing and for aging in place.

The Pittsburgh City Council adopted a resolution in September 2022 to begin the process of gathering information about ADUs and the zoning updates needed to make them a reality.

A gingerbread house with an ADU

Photo from AARP Pennsylvania

The AARP entry in the City of Pittsburgh's 20th Annual Gingerbread House Competition features a main residence and an accessory dwelling unit. (Click on the image to learn more about the contest.)

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