Laneway housing pilot project for seniors touted by Calgary councillor

Tiny 400-square-foot laneway homes would include built-in medical technology, such as heart rate monitors and dialysis machines, to help seniors stay in their communities longer.

Fully customizable dwellings have endless possibilities, says Gian-Carlo Carra

An artistic rendering of the laneway home designed by University of Calgary environmental design students and researchers from the faculty of medicine. (University of Calgary/YouTube)

A new tiny, tech-savvy kind of seniors' housing could be coming to Calgary. 

The 400-square-foot laneway homes are meant to help seniors age in their communities by incorporating built-in medical technology, such as heart rate monitors and dialysis machines.

The project was designed by local university students and will be presented to city council Monday. 

"The house is being designed the same way that you'd design a wheelchair or any other medical apparatus," said Ward 9 Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra, who is proposing the idea.

Because it's fully customizable, Carra said the possibilities are endless.

"And the dream, for the deep future, is that your doctor writes you a prescription for it," he said.

Just 'drop' it in your yard

University of Calgary environmental design students have been working with researchers from the faculty of medicine to develop a prototype.

Carra said the module is designed to "drop" into the backyard of your "typical" Calgary lot, like Acadia or Fairview.

"They can crane it over a two-story house, 150 feet back, and drop it against a back property line if you don't have a lane. They can put it against the lane next to a garage."

The prototype was designed with senior residents in mind. (Junette Huynh/University of Calgary)

Carra foresees several scenarios where this type of housing would work:

  • Where a senior can no longer live independently in their home. "You move into your backyard and maybe your house becomes a source of rental income for you," said Carra​
  • Instead of putting their parents in a home, adult children put laneway homes in their own yards.
  • Adult children move into their parents' home and their parents move into a laneway house on the same property so that the "family is all together, and yet separate," said Carra.
Ward 9 Alderman Gian-Carlo Carra says laneway homes are part of a good seniors strategy and Calgary should give them a try. (CBC)

Carra said it's too early to say how much such a laneway home would cost.

"We do know it's a lot cheaper to prevent than it is to react. It's a lot more expensive to put people into the hospital and then to find them extended care. These are major drags on the system."

Carra would like the city to set up and test a couple of the mini homes. Willing seniors and communities would be needed for a pilot.

"Understanding what kind of seniors and what stages of life would be the most beneficial to collecting data, and then finding those seniors, I believe, connected to a community that's willing to be part of that as well," he said.

This is an example of a laneway house completed by Smallworks in Greater Vancouver. It sits just beyond that backyard of the established property in front. (Smallworks)
Regina is asking residents for feedback on laneway suites. (CBC)

Carra will table a motion Monday asking the city to look into the idea. If council approves, he wants a study completed by fall, and the project to move ahead next year.