Magazine article Journal of Property Management

Hurricane Irene and Special-Needs Residents

Magazine article Journal of Property Management

Hurricane Irene and Special-Needs Residents

Article excerpt

WHEN HURRICANE IRENE LANDED IN AUGUST OF 2011, THE OFFICE OF EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT CALLED AND ACCURATELY PREDICTED WHICH OF OUR PROPERTIES WOULD FLOOD. BY THEN, MOST STORES WERE OUT OF SANDBAGS, GENERATORS WERE IN SHORT SUPPLY AND NEIGHBORS WERE QUICKLY SECURING OUTDOOR FURNITURE.

Two days after Hurricane Irene landed, the rain stopped, but chaos ensued - trees were down, rivers crested, major highways were flooded and many local buildings had several feet of water on the first levels of their buildings.

As property managers, we are trained to prepare for these types of emergencies by creating and implementing contingency plans with residents. But what if your residents have special needs? As a property manager at NewBridge Services, Inc., an agency that develops and manages affordable housing for special needs populations (supportive housing) in New Jersey, my team has the added responsibility of ensuring that our residents are kept out of harm's way in the event of an emergency.

At a two-story NewBridge sublet in Pequannock, New Jersey, floodwaters covered the road, and water levels rose almost to the second floor. While the second floor was not damaged, stairs were waterlogged and deemed dysfunctional by local construction officials. As a result, residents were displaced for more than 100 days. In addition to physical damages, supportive housing case managers from our agency and partner agencies diligently worked with the residents to make sure they were safely relocated and had access to necessary medications.

THE FOLLOWING ARE TIPS TO ENSURE A POSITIVE RELATIONSHIP WITH RESIDENTS WITH SPECIAL NEEDS:

Note changes in living space or routines: This is perhaps a controversial recommendation. The intent is not to make the resident feel as though under surveillance, but to pay attention to subtle queues that could help guard the health and safety of all residents. For instance, if you notice that a particular resident normally power-walks the property but hasn't been seen in several days, knock on their door to check in or to ask if there are any maintenance issues in the unit, just to make contact. People who are elderly or disabled and who live alone can quickly become isolated.

SIGNS OF SPECIAL-NEEDS RESIDENTS

The phrase "special needs" has many meanings to many groups. For the purposes of rental housing, a special-needs resident is anyone who needs a separate or special accommodation. It is important to note that residents with special needs are able to Uve as successfully in society as everyone else. Many are linked with community supports in the form of friends, family members and agencies like ours to help achieve that success.

Residents with physical disabilities:

Residents with physical disabilities may be more easily identified than others with special needs - those in wheelchairs may need ramping and large doorways. Those who are deaf may need strobe-light alarms installed in the unit and/or furniture that vibrates when fire alarms are triggered.

Residents with developmental disabilities:

Residents who are developmentally disabled may have cognitive challenges that can cause diificulty understanding complicated documents, like a lease. But if a landlord introduces these documents to the resident while in the presence of a support person of the residents choosing, that support person can help the resident focus in a way that the landlord would not be trained.

Residents recovering from mental illness:

Residents recovering from severe mental illness have needs that might not be so obvious. …

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