When it becomes clear older people cannot safely continue living alone in their own home, many different housing options come to mind. There's home care or home sharing, assisted living, adult day care, nursing homes and, of course, moving in with family. One possibility that is not as common as the rest has been getting more and more attention. A bit unusual, the option is called “elder cottage housing opportunities” or ECHO. An ECHO senior housing unit is a small, modular home that can be temporarily installed in the backyard of a family member’s home.
The concept originated in Australia, where similar units were called “granny flats.” The dwellings offer a practical way to allow older people to continue living independently, while being in very close proximity to loved ones who can check in regularly and be there at a moment’s notice if help is needed.
Although ECHO cottages are available in various sizes and styles, they often are studio or one bedroom units that come with the amenities of a traditional home. Many include private bedrooms and bathrooms along with living, kitchen, and eating areas. Some are equipped with special features designed to make life easier for seniors, such as easy-to-open handles instead of standard doorknobs and wider doorways. ECHO units are connected to the utilities of the family member's home.
ECHO units can be a fairly affordable housing option. Cottages may be bought or leased and are available new or used. The cost of installation is usually far less than modifying an existing home or adding an in-law suite. Because ECHO housing is designed to be temporary, units can be removed and sold when no longer needed.
Zoning codes and restrictions in many communities across the United States do not yet allow ECHO housing. Special permits are often required in residential neighborhoods. Contact your local zoning authority to learn whether ECHO housing is permitted in your community.