Another Free Market Innovation for the Age Wave

Interior view of a MedCottage. Photo credit: N2Care.

America’s population is aging rapidly, and so is the number of elderly who require assistance in daily living. Baby Boomers, to many of whom has fallen the responsibility of caring for aging parents, often find the alternatives unattractive. Nursing homes can be either too impersonal or too expensive. Caring for the parent at home is too burdensome, especially if both spouses work. Thanks to good ol’ American ingenuity, however, another option has emerged: the granny pod.

Roanoke-based N2Care, designer of the MedCottage, is one of several companies nationally that have begun selling high-tech cottages that families can install in the back yard. The MedCottage squeezes a bedroom, foyer, kitchenette and bathroom into a 288-square-foot modular unit and comes equipped with technology that allows granny to live more independently.

In the Washington Post, Frederick Kunkle describes the experience of Soccorrito Baez-Page and David Page in coaxing her 88-year-old mother, Viola Baez, into a MedCottage in their Fairfax County back yard. Viola’s separation from the rest of the family eliminates squabbles over noise, house temperature and privacy. Yet the close proximity allows family members to interact daily.

A “virtual companion” relays health-related messages, such as, “It’s time to take your medication.” A video system monitors the floor at ankle level to preserve privacy but lets caregivers know if there’s a problem. Pressurized ventilation maintains a pathogen-free environment. A lift attached to a track in the ceiling can help moving the patient from bed to bathroom. Floor lighting illuminates objects on the floor to reduce the risk of tripping, and a soft flooring material reduces the odds of serious injury.

The MedCottage doesn’t come cheap — it retails at $85,000 but with delivery and installation costs the family $125,000. On the other hand, the company offers financing and repurchase programs that make it far more affordable than assisted-living facilities that charge $40,000 or more year. While granny pods may not be suitable for everyone, they provide a significant new option that simply did not exist a couple of years ago.

Bacon’s bottom line: In some states the biggest barrier to the adoption of granny pods may not be the market — it could well be restrictive land use policies. Free-standing “granny flats” are outlawed in many jurisdictions by zoning codes or homeowners’ covenants. Granny pods represent a specially designed sub-set of the granny flat. As the United States braces for the age wave, there is no justification for barring granny pods. Their infirm elderly are not likely to crank up their stereos, throw wild parties, take up street parking or add to traffic congestion. Indeed, the structures are by their nature impermanent: Homeowners will remove them when they are no longer needed.

Fortunately, the General Assembly, in a rare instance of anticipating social change, passed a law in 2010 requiring Virginia zoning ordinances to permit  “temporary family healthcare structures” in single-family residential zoning districts. Kudos to Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-9th, who shepherded the law through the legislature before his election to the House of Representatives.

– JAB

12 Responses to Another Free Market Innovation for the Age Wave

  1. what happens to grandpa. where’s he go?

  2. what we ought to be doing is allowing people who have the room to add granny-apartments to the back/side of their home with the future option of renting it out to others, perhaps young singles starting out.

    the current laws allow counties to allow families to add on for granny but often not use it later as a rental.

    this is dumb.

    the need for affordable housing is gigantic and this is a way for young singles (or couples) to get a leg up towards eventually being able to afford larger digs.

    this is a good deal for other taxpayers also – as these add-ons increase the property taxes collected with little increase in county services.

  3. Good idea

  4. The opposition would come from the added traffic. Granny might not drive anymore, but a rental would likely result in at least one more car per residence. If there are 20 houses per block and half added a granny flat for rental, we are adding considerably to the traffic, local trips and parking. That will draw opposition.

  5. Ya got love the FREE MARKET!

    You grow up in a school pod near your neighborhood pod.

    You work 40 years in an office pod.

    When you get old and your guilt-ridden family no longer can stand you, they put you in a temporary back yard pod.

    Then you go to the Great Outsourcing in the Sky.

    (They remove the temporary, back yard pod).

  6. Yup that about sums it up

  7. So someone is going to pay a hundred grand for a ‘temporary’ house for Granny? Then tear it down when Granny goes away? Where is the financing going to come from? Wouldn’t it be better to buy one of the thousands of foreclosed homes and then rent it out to Granny and a room mate?

  8. For that kind of money you can get a modular home of 1800 sq ft.
    You can get 900 sq ft for half that.

    Zoning is the real problem. As long as people can “object” over things that really don’t concern them, this is going nowhere.

    Like the lady selling farm products from her farm (not all from her farm). Someone objected “We don’t want them selling anything at that farm.” And that was that – out of business.

  9. welcome back Hydra! Hydra is right and I like Darrells idea better also.

    with all of this talk about “takers” and people on Medicare – which is heavily subsidized, we’re talking about son/daughter forking over 100K for a home and these same folks would not have enough money for a nursing home? Normally at this position in life, granny has a home and if she has no other assets, the nursing home and MedicAid would expect the home in return for her long-term care.

    Selling that home to buy granny a modular then selling the modular means what? Does it mean that grannie never receives MediAid to pay for her long-term nursing care because she lived in someone thing she paid for with her kids taking care of her?

    that could save a lot of money on entitlements, right?

  10. For a less expensive alternative, view http://WWW.STAYATHOMEADDITIONS.COM. Stay at Home Additions are patented, ADA compliant modular bathroom, shower, and laundry facilities that are either temporarily or permanently attached to your home. The cost is 1/5th of a granny pod.

    • That’s great. You guys are on to something. Something much needed and practical, with a growing demand. And there’s Grandpa, too. (the Pic)

      Currently there is far to much rigidity built into the systems regulating where and how we live at home.

      This rigidity (quite new by historical standards) was built around the idea of exclusion. It’s now causing much dislocation and alienation within society. This includes, among numerous other pernicious affects, the breakdown of extended families and thwarts the need to protect generations within families or friends, whether young or old or in between.

      More power to your solutions.

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