The Carrboro Board of Aldermen is considering approving zoning protections for accessory dwelling units, known as Granny Pods, in single-family neighborhoods. The units could be used to accommodate on-site care for aging seniors, offering the dual function of proximity and privacy for seniors, families and caregivers, said Kenneth Dupin, founder and CEO of MEDCottage.
Dupin pioneered the Granny Pods with MEDCottage, a Virginia-based company that develops and installs the units as an affordable alternative to assisted living and nursing homes.
“Really and truly, it allows the family to preserve wealth because it’s defined — in other words, you lease it or you purchase it and it doesn’t consume wealth the same way that a nursing home or assisted living would,” Dupin said.
Affordable housing is currently an issue in Carrboro as town officials strive to find ways to alleviate high costs of living.
“One way to look at it, in terms of accessory dwellings, is a way to meet affordability issues,” said Alderwoman Randee Haven-O’Donnell.
Alderwoman Bethany Chaney said that while she believes the Granny Pods could offer affordable housing options for seniors, she doesn’t think it will be the end-all be-all of affordability, which she described as a moving target.
Despite the units’ affordability, in the past five years, MEDCottage has only been able to place five of them, even though the company has received thousands of inquiries.
“It has so much to do with the cultural, municipal resistance to the idea of it being placed on someone’s property — there’s been resistance to this idea of a shack in the backyard that later on can be used for college kids or bad kids,” Dupin said.
In other low-income areas in the area, college students have moved in, causing rents to rise. This forces longtime residents out of their homes.
Chaney and Haven-O’Donnell said they were concerned the units would be used to house college students, which would drive up housing prices and prevent the units from being used by their intended recipients.
“My concern is whether or not it’ll really meet the goal of helping people stay in their homes,” Chaney said.
“Are the people that are going to be putting these on lots really the ones that need them the most, or are they going to be people that are opportunistic?”
To ease community concerns, Dupin said the town should restrict the function of the units to temporary caregiving measures. He said Virginia uses a prescription-like model, which owners can renew yearly as needed.
Despite concerns, affordable housing is currently at the top of Carrboro’s list of priorities, Haven-O’Donnell said.
“The goal is to have a diverse community,” she said.
“In order to have a diverse community, we’ve got to be able to meet the affordability needs of diverse incomes, because that’s what democracy looks like.”