Affordable Housing Solution for Seniors Arrives in Centre County: Learn How to Apply
After facing delays due to the pandemic, supply chain issues, and rising costs, an affordable housing program catering to older adults in Centre County is now open for applications. The Elder Cottage Housing Opportunity (ECHO) program offers the construction of small, manufactured cottages that can be temporarily placed on the side or backyard of a host family’s property. The host family provides essential assistance, creating a setup where qualified adults aged 60 and above can age in place while staying close to their loved ones, as outlined on the county’s website.
In 2021, the county received grant funding to launch the program. During a recent Centre County Commissioners meeting, Quentin Burchfield, director of Centre County’s office on aging, and Morgan Wasikonis, executive director of Housing Transitions, provided an update on the project. They anticipate having the first cottage ready for occupancy by the end of the summer.
Wasikonis explained the concept behind ECHO, stating that older adults can enjoy the independence of living on their own while benefiting from the proximity to family members who can provide care and support. She highlighted that most services for older adults are typically concentrated in urban areas, such as nursing homes. The ECHO program offers an alternative, allowing individuals to reside closer to their long-established home areas and their families.
ECHO operates similarly to subsidized housing arrangements, where the older adult residing in the cottage contributes 30% of their income toward rent. The remaining costs are covered by the HOME Foundation, ensuring that neither the homeowner nor the older adult bears any additional financial burden. The foundation will handle the setup of the house, including utility connections and site preparation.
The cottage itself is approximately half the size of a standard mobile home, spanning about 40 feet in length. The floor plan encompasses a kitchen, living area, one bedroom, an accessible bathroom, and laundry facilities. The occupancy can accommodate up to two people. In some municipalities, zoning and variance requests may be necessary for the placement of the cottage, according to Wasikonis.
The location of the cottage requires a sufficiently large lot with a level area. While minor site adjustments can be made to ensure level ground, no permanent changes can be made to the host family’s property. Once the cottage is no longer needed by its occupant, it can be relocated to another property to serve another aging adult.
The ECHO program initially launched in Clearfield County and receives funding from the state’s realty transfer tax. The program’s budget, including the manufacturing costs of the home, has increased due to pandemic-related factors, with the home now priced at $92,000, up from the initial $45,000.
To qualify for the program, applicants must either be independent or independent with family assistance. There is an application process in place, and the program aims to have multiple potential families ready to utilize the cottage to ensure a seamless transition when one family no longer requires it.
Looking ahead, Wasikonis expressed hope that this model could be extended beyond aging adults to include adults with special needs who desire independent living while having the support of their families.
For further information, interested individuals can contact Centre County’s aging office at 814-355-6716.