A new partnership between nonprofit aging services organization Covia Group and Ziegler Link•age Funds will invest in Minka Homes & Communities, co-founded by Dr. Bill Thomas, to test the model as a way to meet the needs of middle-income older adults for senior housing, the companies announced Thursday.

“Given the impact of COVID-19 on older adults across our country, the need to build affordable homes and communities that foster resilience has never been more urgent,” Minka CEO Ana Pinto da Silva said in a statement. “We can map a new path forward with beautifully designed, digitally connected, compact housing that centers wellness and human connection.” 

The first Minka homes built through the investment will be located on Covia’s Spring Lake Village life plan community campus in Santa Rosa, CA. Covia anticipates that construction will take place early next year.

“We are starting out with a flagship Minka Home Demonstration Project,” said Mary McMullin, chief strategy and advancement officer of Walnut Creek, CA-based Covia. “This approach allows us to learn together, developing a proof of concept that helps us refine our understanding of cost, scalability and performance in line with Covia’s core mission to provide outstanding options for people wherever they choose to call home.”

Covia and the Ziegler Link•age Funds hope the project will provide a solution for senior living that can be scaled to meet the needs of the middle market, helping organizations across the country build communities that support older adults in a way that is responsive to changing needs.

“We need to think about bricks and mortar differently,” Scott Collins, CEO of Link•age, and manager of the Ziegler Link•age Funds, said in a statement. “We are challenging ourselves to think beyond traditional senior living to find solutions that re-define the market and can scale to meet the demand for affordable, middle-market communities nationwide.” 

Thomas introduced the Minka concept in 2017. The “tiny home” project is named for traditional Japanese homes featuring simple design and natural materials. Minka incorporates universal and sustainable design with “smart home” technology.

“We don’t just want shelter. We want community,” McMullin said. “Minka’s approach was the first one that spoke to us. Their design approach allows people to live the way they want to live. I’m truly excited by it.”

Thomas tested the idea in his backyard, and the prototype is now available for rent on AirBnB.

When he announced the project, Thomas, founder of The Eden Alternative and creator of The Green House model, said he envisioned the prefabricated houses as accessory dwelling units or clustered into so-called pocket neighborhoods — for older adults and others who need affordable housing and desire to remain independent. 

In 2018, Thomas and the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville announced a year-long pilot project on the college campus to test a version of the dwellings as a multigenerational community housing model. The College of Nursing and Health Professions is still using the Minka on campus as a smart home telehealth incubation lab to study aging in place and train healthcare professionals.

Covia, which changed its name from Episcopal Senior Communities in 2018, is a primary investor in the Minka Homes project. Covia also is in the process of affiliating with Glendale, CA-based Front Porch.

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