'Granny Pods' Keep Elderly Close, At Safe Distance
As of 2010, about 3.6 million people over age 65 were living in households headed by their children or other relatives, according to the Census Bureau; that number will only get higher, of course, as the baby boomer generation gets older and frailer. In many homes, the influx of oldsters is creating a space crisis, so the next hot housing trend just might turn out to be the “auxiliary dwelling unit,” also known as the “temporary family health-care structure.” Or, to use the unflattering nickname that seems to be sticking: the “granny pod.”
Call them what you will, these are prefabricated mini homes, usually the size of a two-car garage or a master-bedroom suite, designed to be plopped down in your backyard. Firms like N2Care of Blacksburg, Va., and Rockfall Co. of Rockfall, Conn., are customizing the dwellings for older residents, outfitting them with features like medical monitoring technology, air filters, handicapped-accessible bathrooms and fall-proof floors. This week, the Washington Post profiles a family that’s one of the first in the state of Virginia to own a “MEDCottage” from N2Care; the UK’s Mail Online has a cheekier piece with some lovely photos of the MEDCottage and some of its competitors.
What these senior sheds aren’t is cheap: The all-in cost for a MEDCottage, for example, is about $125,000. The builders say that if you compare that price tag to the cost of assisted living or nursing care, the lodgings pay for themselves in about two years. I’m not sure that comparison is fully on point: if an elderly relative becomes severely impaired, after all, he or she probably won’t be independent enough to keep living in the pod. So the larger question for homeowners is whether these modules will seem like good investments compared to, say, retrofitting a basement or an extra bedroom – and whether your family might keep using them once a parent or grandparent moves on. (Might that granny pod do double-duty as, say, a “college dropout pod,” as one local Virginia lawmaker dismissively suggested?)
One other factor to consider: Your community’s zoning laws might not let you install one of these auxiliary dwellings. But that’s slowly changing: At least four states, including Virginia, New York and California, have passed laws that let families override local housing rules in cases where there’s a medical need for a new structure.