NOEL KING, HOST:
Walk around the campus of the University of Southern Indiana, and you may notice a very small house. It's part of an experiment to create houses of 600 square feet that can be built in days. These little homes could offer housing alternatives for elderly people. Isaiah Seibert of member station WNIN in Evansville has the story.
ISAIAH SEIBERT, BYLINE: The small, 600-square-foot modular house is called Minka. The name is derived from a simple and functional style of Japanese home. Bill Thomas is a geriatrician by training, but today he's overseeing the construction of one of the first Minka prototypes on this university campus in southwestern Indiana, with his elderly patients in mind.
BILL THOMAS: This is the Minka revolution.
(SOUNDBITE OF HAMMERING)
SEIBERT: Workers hammer away, putting the final touches on the foundation. No one will live in this prototype house. It's being built for research. But housing officials from Loveland, Colo., a town about 50 miles north of Denver, have different plans for Minka houses.
DARCY MCCLURE: I'm really interested in observing the actual construction method because it is different than what we are used to.
SEIBERT: Darcy McClure is director of real estate development with the Loveland Housing Authority. Its projects are normally stick-built with everything constructed on site. But Minka houses are modular. Parts of the house, like floor boxes and wall panels, are built in a factory and shipped to the site. As for construction, think Legos. Next summer, Loveland will break ground on its own Minka houses. They're initially building nine to house senior citizens.
VALERIE JURIK-HENRY: The fact they want to do this type of housing in community build is awesome. It's brilliant - because that's the need that's out there right now.
SEIBERT: Valerie Jurik-Henry is a North Carolina-based housing consultant who works with builders to construct accessible homes and is a big fan of modular houses. While the idea of modular homes for the elderly isn't unique, it's use for a whole community is intriguing. Each house costs about $75,000 to build, and they're constructed quickly - very quickly. While stick-build homes can take months to construct, you can build a Minka house in just a few days.
Jurik-Henry thinks this project can help raise awareness about alternatives to the single-family home. She notes a severe lack of knowledge about housing options in this country. People often choose houses for themselves based on what they've grown up in. But what people know and what people actually need can be very different, and that's part of the idea behind a Minka house.
THOMAS: If you have a small, high-tech, compact, livable house and you have good neighbors close by, you can maintain your independence for a lot longer than if you're living alone in a house at the end of a cul-de-sac.
SEIBERT: Minka developer Bill Thomas sees them as an alternative to assisted living or nursing homes for millions of seniors. Thomas says an accessible house that works for the elderly can also be perfect for a young 20-something. And that's why one of the first is on a university campus. The house has already caught the attention of students who gawk at the construction as they walk by. Thomas is in talks with the university about building a whole community of these Minka houses near campus. He wants to create a small neighborhood. Students who want an alternative to dorm life living next-door to elderly people in the surrounding community. His goal is to provide accessible homes to seniors while bringing generations closer together, one tiny house at a time.
For NPR News, I'm Isaiah Seibert in Evansville, Ind. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.