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Temporary homes help seniors stay close to family

ECHO units – which stands for Elder Cottage Housing Opportunity - help seniors stay close to family.
Kat Bolus
An ECHO unit – which stands for Elder Cottage Housing Opportunity - at Simplex Homes Inc. in Scranton

Elder Cottage Housing Opportunity (ECHO) units are a place where older adults can live with dignity and independence.

A place where community partners together help their neighbors.

That’s according to Pennsylvania Secretary on Aging Jason Kavulich.

“This is community doing its very best to help older Pennsylvanians," he said.

The small semi-permanent homes are available to help older adults maintain independence while living close to family members. The one-floor units have a kitchen and dining area; a bathroom with a walk-in shower and a bedroom. They can be placed in the yards of family members. On Monday, tours of the units were available at Simplex Homes Inc. in Scranton.

The homes are being replicated throughout the commonwealth, said Kavulich.

“This work is important, this work is innovative," he said. "This work will keep older Pennsylvanians in their communities.”

NeighborWorks Northeastern Pennsylvania manages the overall project. Johnson College students work on the homes. Simplex provides space to build the homes, the building materials and transportation once they are complete.

Simplex got involved in the project in 2021, said Dave Bonillo, president and CEO.

"Through the efforts of local government, to highly involved nonprofits, and private industry, we were able to get this program off the ground and running to support the needs of the aging adult community," he said.

Debbie Martin was the first person to receive an ECHO unit in Lackawanna County. She now lives in the front yard of her son’s Spring Brook Township home. Martin wasn’t able to attend Monday.

“Debbie stated to me with tears in her eyes that she didn't think she would be able to watch her grandchildren grow up if it wasn't for the echo unit," said Mary Endrusick, NeighborWorks Aging in Place manager.

Each unit costs $70,000, she said. Construction is grant funded. The homes come with appliances. Properties must have at least one and a quarter acres of land available between the main house and the ECHO unit. The older residents do pay rent, 30% of their income. Utilities are hooked up to the main house.

"All of our partners, everybody who's been involved in this really shares that core goal to lend our neighbors a helping hand, especially our older neighbors who need a place to, to live in safety and with dignity," said Jesse Ergot, NeighborWorks CEO and President.

Four ECHO units are available in Lackawanna County; and one in Luzerne. The program also extends into Wayne County.

For more details on the program, visit www.nwnepa.org/programs/aip/echo.html.

Kat Bolus is the community reporter for the newly-formed WVIA News Team. She is a former reporter and columnist at The Times-Tribune, a Scrantonian and cat mom.