Evaluation of the HUD Elder Cottage Housing Opportunity (ECHO) Program Cover

Authors: C. Theodore Koebel, Julia Beamish, Karen Danielsen-Lang, Jeannete Steeves
Year: 2003
Publisher: Virginia Center for Housing Research


With funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Center for Housing Research at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) conducted an evaluation of the HUD Elder Cottage Housing Opportunity (ECHO) demonstration program.  The evaluation consisted of a review of background information, a review of zoning and land-use issues, interviews with key groups, physical inspections of the ECHO units, a financial viability assessment, and findings and recommendations.  
ECHO housing was introduced in the United States in the 1980s based on a program started in Australia in 1975. An ECHO unit is a small house in which an elderly person resides and which is placed near the home of a host (either relatives or close friends of the elderly person). The purpose of this arrangement is to make it convenient and efficient for the occupants of the host family dwelling to provide assistance to the elderly person residing in the smaller ECHO house. 

The HUD ECHO demonstration program was initiated in 1993. Initially the demonstration program allocated 80 units nationally to five participating states: Tennessee (20), New Jersey (20), Iowa (10), Kansas (20), and Missouri (10). At the time of the fieldwork conducted for this report, there were only 34 units in use: Tennessee (2), New Jersey (6), Iowa (10), Kansas (6), and Missouri (10). Four key groups are involved in the ECHO program: HUD field offices, sponsors, host families, and ECHO housing residents. The local HUD field office oversees the ECHO demonstration program and contracts with a sponsor to provide the units and manage the program.
While evaluation of the demonstration program revealed that each state had a unique set of experiences, there were also many common aspects. The benefits of the program cited by program participants were related to the daily-living support provided to the elderly residentbby adjacent family members. The challenges of the program were related to poor unit design criteria, unclear responsibilities and lack of guidelines for key groups, high costs, zoning constraints, vacancy, and difficulty in moving units.