Better Housing For Tompkins County Elder Cottages: Design Evaluation And Future Recommendations

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By 2020, 55 million people in the United States are predicted to be over 65 years of age (U.S. Census Bureau, 2004). As such, additional housing options need to be available for this growing population. It is imperative that housing for older adults support their changing needs and abilities. While the majority of older adults wish to age in place by remaining in their current residence for as long as possible (AARP, 2000), the design of their home may be unsuitable for older adults. For example, those with limited mobility may find it difficult to enter their home if they need to climb up a set of stairs to do so. Therefore, one housing option for seniors who wish to remain independent but cannot remain in their own home is to move into an elder cottage, or ECHO (Elder Cottage Housing Opportunity) housing. An elder cottage is a type of accessory dwelling unit temporarily placed next to the home of an older adult's child. The cottages are modular homes designed with basic accessibility features enabling older adults to live independently, yet still receive care from their nearby family. Once the cottage is no longer needed, it can be moved to a different location to be used by another older adult. Specifically, Better Housing for Tompkins County (BHTC) administers one such elder cottage program in Tompkins County, New York. This thesis evaluates the design of BHTC's elder cottages through the compilation and assessment of interviews with cottage residents and their family members, as well as observations of the residents interacting with the cottage environment. Overall, the residents of BHTC's elder cottages are satisfied with the program. The residents enjoy the independence the cottage provides as they are able to maintain a high quality of life. However, although built to be handicap accessible, the design of the cottage does not fully support the full range of changing needs of elderly residents. Therefore, design recommendations to be incorporated into a new elder cottage design are discussed. These recommendations incorporate the principles of universal design and visitability into the design of the elder cottage. Universal design ensures that the design of the environment and the products within it are usable by everyone, regardless of their age or abilities. Visitability is a movement to make all homes accessible by providing a zero-step entry, wide doorways and an accessible bathroom on the first floor of the home. The new elder cottage design is discussed through the lens of the seven major issues brought about through data collection: accessibility, ability to support social interaction/quality of life, ability to support activities of daily living and instrumental activities of daily living, affordability, sustainability, transportability/structural stability and zoning regulations. The findings of this study fill a gap in previous ECHO housing research as it has yet to focus on the cottage design. This research proposes a new design for Better Housing for Tompkins County's elder cottages that can enhance the lives of the residents and encourage the use of elder cottages as a safe housing alternative for the growing older adult population.

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interior design; senior housing; elder cottage


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Eshelman, Paul Edwin

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Wethington, Elaine

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M.A., Design

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Master of Arts

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dissertation or thesis

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