Bill Thomas, M.D.

Dr. Bill Thomas has a new project for affordable seniors housing: tiny houses that could be used as accessory dwelling units (“granny pods”) or clustered into so-called pocket neighborhoods.

Thomas, founder of the Eden Alternative and the Green House Project, announced his project, called Minka, at the recently concluded Senior Living Innovation Forum, according to a blog post related to the meeting.

The project is named for traditional Japanese homes featuring simple design and natural materials. Thomas, who in March was named chief wellness officer at Holiday Retirement, reportedly envisions that the homes not only could be used for seniors but also for others who need affordable housing and desire to remain independent.

He will test the concept, including “smart home” features, in his backyard with a house for his 21-year-old daughter, Haleigh Jane, who requires around-the-clock care due to a neurological disorder called Otahara syndrome, according to the blog post.

Capitalizing on the “tiny house” movement in America for older adults is not a new idea, of course. Media outlets, including McKnight’s Senior Living, have been discussing the option for a few years now. In a 2015 article, McKnight’s Senior Living talked about the 12-by-24-foot MEDCottage, which some seniors are opting for as a way to stay close to adult children while remaining “independent.”

At the time, McKnight’s Senior Living said of MEDCottage: “Conceived by a Virginia minister whose parishioners felt loss after placing their parents in nursing homes, the sardonically dubbed ‘granny pods’ come standard with such low-tech ergonomic features as hand rails to higher-tech add-ons like defibrillators, interactive video, bed and bathroom seat lifts, physician-connected sensors that monitor vital signs and glucose levels, toilet seats that record and upload weight and body temperature, medication reminder systems — even floor-level cameras that record and send alerts when falls occur.”

The Minka project, however, would mark Thomas’ entry into the movement.