Affordable, Age-Ready Homes Can Be MAGIC!

In 2017, geriatrician-housebuilder Dr. Bill Thomas hit upon an idea to challenge the “big-box” style of senior living communities: modular, affordable small homes that reduced financial burdens and increased an older adult’s ability to stay involved in the local community.

The houses, named Minka after a traditional Japanese concept meaning a modest rural house, were concepted to be about 330 square feet, and roughly $150-$200 a square foot to construct, thanks to CNC (computer numerical control) machines that can cut out multiple plywood beams at once with precision. Thomas envisioned Minka communities of these houses, mostly filled with older adults and young professionals, as well as individual units that could be built on a homeowner’s existing property — essentially a single-story ADU for an older adult, with family or caregivers close by in the property’s original house. The Minka homes included ergonomic and ADA compliant features. The over-arching idea was to construct something that was, as Thomas put it, MAGIC: part of Multi-Ability/multi-Generational, Inclusive Communities.

Minka started well — a prototype home was built on the University of Southern Indiana campus in Evansville, and another prototype was constructed on Lake Cayuga near Ithaca, N.Y. — and many people in the senior housing industry were hailing it as a gamechanger. But in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and changed the world. Like many other small businesses and start-ups, Minka found itself struggling to survive. Additionally, although the modular construction method made housing construction easier and more affordable, local building codes did not. Because each municipality had its own building codes, each new Minka home had to be reinvented from scratch to meet those codes.

Minka Makes MAGIC

In the end, the organization couldn’t survive as originally conceived and wound down its business in March 2022. But it was soon reborn as part of Kallimos Communities. The latest project from founder Thomas, Kallimos also is based on the MAGIC concept. While different from Minka, which built ADU-type homes only, Kallimos builds shells and then allows residents to configure the interior by selecting modules which give them the physical layout they need or want. 

These homes are clustered within the larger subdivision into what Thomas and Kallimos call  “pocket” neighborhoods of up to 50 units. The neighborhoods can include such amenities as gardens and nature paths, a multi-generational playground and a greenhouse. Each pocket neighborhood also includes indoor and outdoor spaces for shared activities, including dining. Depending on the size of the development, other amenities are possible.

Deeper affordability in development and operation is being explored with partnerships, such as one formed in Loveland, Colorado, where the local housing authority is part of the team. Two “pocket neighborhood” projects are under development, in Loveland Colorado, and Clearfield County, Pennsylvania.

Lessons from Minka

Minka was a game changing concept that ran headlong into a world-changing pandemic. But there are some intriguing takeaways: 

  • Zoning, the blunt instrument that in the name of the greater good has done so much harm, can be managed or mitigated somewhat when building exteriors conform with a common community model.
  • Interior designs can be accessible and personalized. Using modules that can switched out at tenant turnover can be an affordable way to reconfigure apartments.
  • Cluster and Embed — The possibilities for sharing and intergenerational socializing can be enhanced when tiny homes are grouped into “pocket neighborhoods” within a community. 

Next week:  Making More MAGIC — Managing and living in pocket neighborhoods.

Third Chapter Living celebrates, challenges, informs and promotes conversations about housing issues affecting the Baby Boomer Generation. Check out our website to learn more about our work on aging-in-place options. The author, Reese Fayde, is a dedicated problem solver and skills development coach. She’s passionate about working with change-makers — individuals committed to transforming the status quo, whether it’s in their industry, community, or organization.

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