There is a difficult balance between independence and care for seniors and their families. Loved ones fit long commutes into their own busy lives to provide support. The Pennsylvania Department of Aging, with its Elder Cottage Housing Opportunity project, has ideas to make that process a little easier for some Pennsylvania families.

ECHO cottages, introduced in 2018, are small residences for older adults built in families’ or close friends’ backyards. The goal is to allow seniors to maintain their autonomy while also receiving close-by care from loved ones.

“It’s preserving the natural support that would already be in place there, whether it be a friend or family member,” said Patty Clark, the Department of Aging’s Housing and Community Services Division chief. “It preserves that relationship and allows it to continue.”

The program recently received an additional $210,000 grant from the state Housing Finance Association, funding an additional two cottages in the state. As it stands, six cottages are currently operating with nine now in the process of being built and awarded. They are all over the state, including in Westmoreland and Fayette counties.

Local Area Agencies on Aging, encompassing one or more counties, can apply to be part of the program, a decision complicated by local zoning laws. The cottages are temporary, so when a senior no longer needs it, the state can put it on a truck and move it somewhere else. The elders served are “lower income,” according to a news release, with the cost limited to 30% of their monthly income.

The structure of the cottages can be customized, Clark said, and built to ensure comfort.

“They have ramps going into them instead of stairs,” she said. “They have wider doorways, in case of a wheelchair.” Additionally, they put handrails in the bathrooms and can make other adjustments based on individual cases.

“The project is designed to promote the independence of the older adult,” she said.

Harrison, a rising senior at Denison University, is a Union Progress summer intern. Email him at

Harrison Hamm

Harrison, a rising senior at Denison University, is a Union Progress summer intern. Email him at