For Adults With Special Needs, Demand For Housing Outpaces Supply
PLEASANTON, Calif. — As people from all walks of life struggle to afford housing in the Bay Area, one group is particularly vulnerable to the crisis, but often forgotten — people with developmental disabilities.
A new housing complex that just broke ground in Pleasanton is trying to change that, becoming one of just a handful of local projects designed to house low-income adults with autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy, epilepsy and other developmental disabilities.
Experts say Sunflower Hill at Irby Ranch takes a tiny step toward addressing a massive — and growing — Bay Area need. Residents with developmental disabilities often can’t work and receive just a few hundred dollars a month in government benefits, not nearly enough to afford an apartment in the region’s overheated housing market. Complicating their housing search, they also may need help with everyday tasks such as laundry and grocery shopping.
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“There is such a pent-up demand right now among young adults (with special needs) for housing,” said Lisa Kleinbub, executive director of the Regional Center of the East Bay, a nonprofit that supports people with developmental disabilities. “They’re housed in settings that really aren’t what they want. They’re living with their parents, and they’re 30 years old … Some people are living in group situations, sharing bedrooms.”
Alameda and Contra Costa counties need an estimated 4,500 units of housing for people with developmental disabilities, Kleinbub said. But Housing Consortium of the East Bay, the main provider of affordable housing for people with special needs in the region, operates fewer than 100 units there, said Executive Director Darin Lounds.
In the South Bay, the San Andreas Regional Center serves 17,500 people with developmental disabilities in Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Monterey and San Benito counties. The center doesn’t have specific data on housing needs, but estimates that about 80 percent of the people it serves live with their parents.
In Pleasanton alone, about 700 housing units probably are needed, Kleinbub said. The Sunflower Hill project, which broke ground this month, will provide 31.
“It’s a drop in the bucket. But at least the bucket’s there, and somebody’s dropping some drops in it,” said Trudy Grable, director of community and family services for Parents Helping Parents, a San Jose-based nonprofit that works with families of people with special needs.
Meanwhile, the population of people with special needs is expanding. Kleinbub estimates the Regional Center grows by between 600 and 800 people a year.
Having more housing available for those with special needs would take a huge weight off Sherrean Carr’s shoulders. The 60-year-old Gilroy resident has spent months trying to find housing for her 25-year-old daughter who has a seizure disorder, is nonverbal and uses a wheelchair.
Carr applied to the only affordable housing for people with developmental disabilities she could find in Gilroy — Villa Esperanza Apartments — and was told there’s a two to five-year waiting list.
For now, Carr’s daughter lives with her — but Carr constantly worries what will happen to her daughter once she’s gone.
“It’s a huge worry for parents,” Carr said. “It’s just immobilizing at times.”
When completed next year, the $19 million Sunflower Hill project will offer one (add hyphen here after “one-“?) and two-bedroom apartments at prices ranging from about $380 to $1,500 a month, depending on the resident’s income. While other buildings sometimes reserve a handful of units for residents with special needs, the Sunflower Hill project is unique because the entire complex will be for people with developmental disabilities. The building will cater to its residents’ needs with extra services, including access to a dining hall with a meal plan, a caretaker available to support the residents 24/7, a makers space for arts and crafts projects, a bocce ball court and social activities, said Sunflower Hill founder Susan Houghton.
Residents who need extra support can bring individual caretakers into their apartments at their own cost.
Funding for the Sunflower Hill project came from a variety of sources, including $2.2 million from the city of Pleasanton, $7 million from Alameda County’s 2016 Measure A1 bond and $7 million from state tax credits.
Not everyone agrees that creating communities exclusively for people with developmental disabilities is the best approach. Instead, Regional Center of the East Bay prioritizes housing its population alongside the general community, Kleinbub said. But she said Sunflower Hill’s approach might work as long as residents have opportunities to venture beyond the building.
The Sunflower Hill project is still a year away from opening, but already more than 300 people have expressed interest. There are few other projects in the pipeline. Sunflower Hill won approval from the city of Livermore in 2017 to build housing for another 44 people with developmental disabilities but has held off on the project as it hunts for more funding.
Kathy Layman hopes one of the Sunflower Hill at Irby Ranch units will go to her 20-year-old grandson who has epilepsy and other developmental disabilities. Like most adults with special needs in the Bay Area, he lives at home with his mother and grandmother in Pleasanton. But Layman, who is on the board of Sunflower Hill, thinks it would be good for him to live on his own, near people his own age who have similar disabilities.
“He likes being around people,” she said. “He needs that social interaction.”
© 2019 The Mercury News
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