Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Families Are the Key to Innovative Housing Solutions

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Families Are the Key to Innovative Housing Solutions

Article excerpt

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Families and individuals with developmental disabilities are leading the way in establishing innovative housing options. They are creating homes with supportive services more tailored to specific individual needs. They are developing homes with physical environments that feel more like home, or are more therapeutic. And they are taking steps toward true community integration.

There are tremendous gaps in housing options for people with developmental disabilities, especially those whose only income is SSI. First, there's a lack of affordable rental homes and apartments. Second, the demand for low income housing through HUD programs such as Section 8 and 811 programs far outstrips the demand, and the priorities in those programs are justifiably toward the homeless. Most importantly though, the Medicaid program is totally inadequate in the area of housing. For example, Medicaid HCBS waivers do not pay for rent and living expenses; they only provide supportive services to help people living in community settings. And they often restrict housing options to group homes of four or fewer people.

Around the country there are examples where families and individuals have stepped up in the right way, by taking greater responsibility, to establish better, long term, more appealing "homes," not "housing."

Benjamin House, Elizabeth City, North Carolina

One of these examples is a home founded by Ann Parke Hughes in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. Ann and Lennie Hughes have three children. Their youngest, Benjamin, 31, is diagnosed with autism, cerebral palsy, and mild mental retardation.

"God put a dream in my heart that there would be a place for Benjamin when we are gone. I didn't know what that place would be, but I prayed every morning and gradually the vision came to me," said Ann.

In 1998 Ann set to make her vision of a non-denominational, faith-based group home for 12 people a reality. "When I started this I didn't know what I was doing--I had no idea of all of the regulations, financial issues, and obstacles I would encounter, but I knew I had to do something, and at each roadblock God brought good people forward to help me."

In 1999 a non-profit corporation was formed with a board comprised of parents, interested community residents, and representatives of local churches. Construction on Benjamin house started in 2004 and was completed in late 2005. Its residents moved in in February of 2006.

Ann and the board encountered and overcame the major obstacles that stymie most creative housing projects. The first was regulations related to the size of group homes that are funded through Medicaid waiver programs.

North Carolina's Community Alternatives Program (CAP) is the primary source of funding for services to people with developmental disabilities. CAP is a Medicaid Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) waiver program. In North Carolina and many other states HCBS waiver programs restrict the number of people living in a group home to four or less. But Ann and her board felt that a small home would not be economically viable in providing a more supportive environment. With the support their state representative they were able to get an exception to have 12 people at Benjamin House.

The second major obstacle Benjamin House overcame was funding for construction. The 10,000 square foot house cost $1.2 million dollars to build. Most innovative housing projects obtain capital funding from a variety of sources, including local fundraising, grants or corporate donations, and by tapping into state and federal sources. The primary sources for state funding are programs administered by state housing finance agencies. These agencies may provide low interest loans, low income housing tax credits and other development financing aimed at a variety of low income target populations. …

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