by Mike Lee, Staff Writer
Twenty years ago, Jack Mills had an idea whose time has finally come.
With 2.2 acres of family land in northwest Oklahoma City, Mills thought what a wonderful idea it would be build dedicated housing for those whose needs traditional housing hadn’t met.
Seniors, vets and disabled individuals all had special needs when it came to the logistics of a home.
Mills had never met a person who was able to roll a wheelchair up a flight of stairs.
He knew regular countertops were almost useless for someone set lower to the ground.
The concept is known as aging in place, which he brought to his family home, that was originally built in the 1930s, some 20 years ago.
What he’s created is Mills Pond, six units, mostly overlooking a pond in his backyard, that allow people with special needs to live comfortably and affordably.
He got the idea from an 80-year-old who built an accessible home not a mile away.
“The land was here and it was paid for so I thought why not. Roll the dice,” Mills said. “There wasn’t any guarantee it would be rented. You’ve got to roll the dice.”
He started in his main home by opening up a couple walls and created another kitchen and back area in his home that he hopes will serve him well one day when he has difficulties getting around.
The idea is carried out through the other units. Wheelchair-accessible entries and doors allow residents to come and go on their own. Lower countertops, grab bars and other amenities help residents out on the inside.
“This whole thing takes a village,” Mills said. “We’ve got six units but we could have 100 and it would take volunteers.”
The idea is to use some of those who live in the units to help others out any way they can from physical needs to spiritual and social needs.
He’s big on utilizing space as much as possible and says the idea is one that just needs sponsorship.
And Mills has always been one for innovation and promotion.
He had one of the first pizza delivery services in the U.S. when he delivered General Jacks pizzas to hungry students at the University of Oklahoma. Six years in the Army Reserve followed a stint in the R.O.T.C. at OU.
He later came to Oklahoma City and opened up the Beef and Bun restaurant, which many a high schooler frequented.
Eventually, he found himself doing marketing in the club business for Michael’s Plum and Pistachio’s, the hottest disco clubs in the late 1970s where everybody even remotely associated with the oil business was awash in cash and spending it freely.
Mills would eventually find himself taking groups to Acapulco for luxury villa vacations.
Basically, Mills is a man who is used to reinventing himself and has spent all his working life making people feel comfortable and welcome.
It’s one of the reasons he’s so Gung-ho about the idea of aging in place.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2010 there were 56.7 million non-institutionalized persons with disabilities. California, Colorado, Minnesota, Washington and Virginia are some of the states with the same Cottage Concept.
Mills says the cottage provides affordable homes for veterans, seniors, special needs and all others on limited income. There are two homes. The main home has two bedrooms, two baths, living room and kitchen at around 900 sq. ft. The cottage next to the main home is 500 sq. ft.
The cottage resident pays a large portion of the owner’s mortgage and both owner and renter provide a built-in safety net for one another.
He would like to see the city of Oklahoma City utilize some of its vacant land for the projects.
Ideally, someone could built the unit for around $130,000 and live there while renting space out.
That’s what Mills has done and his residents stay long-term because they say they can’t find affordable housing that’s built for their needs.
In fact, vacancies usually only occur after a resident has passed away.
But Mills knows there are hundreds if not thousands of people the concept could benefit.
He just hopes it’s an idea whose time has finally come.
Jack Mills, 77, works to provide better living opportunities for seniors, vets and those who are disabled.