Suburban apartments a breakthrough for people with disabilities
With one permanent supportive housing complex open Monday in Mount Prospect, another on the way in Wheeling, one planned for Palatine, and more promised for other suburbs, advocates say there is a breakthrough for housing for people with disabilities in Illinois they hope will continue.
Myers Place, which opened on Monday, became the first supportive housing development in the Northwest suburbs, but the concept of independent living for people with mental and physical disabilities has already caught on around the state, said Mary Kenney, executive director of the Illinois Housing Development Authority.
Supportive housing exists in Chicago, Springfield and Rockford, but with more than 300 people on a waitlist for 39 apartments at Myers Place, officials said the need in Cook county is still high.
Daveri Development Group LLC has partnered with the Kenneth Young Center of Elk Grove Village and other nonprofits to bring affordable independent apartment-living for people with mental illness or physical disabilities, but also provide on-site access to social workers and other services.
Daveri is behind Myers Place as well as PhilHaven, a project that will now be built in Wheeling after a court settlement approved by the village board Monday night. The village originally rejected the plan and Daveri sued, claiming discrimination.
According to the settlement, the project will be built following all village codes including stormwater management configurations the village came up with last year, said Village President Dean Argiris. He also said after the meeting the village will pay $230,000 for the plaintiff's legal costs. He read a statement that the village respects people with disabilities and was not motivated by discrimination but by "making sure all local laws are followed."
Another company is hoping to get a similar housing plan approved in Palatine this summer, but Jessica Berzac, vice president of development for Daveri, said supporters won't be stopping there.
She said she'd love to see a similar complex in every Northwest suburb. But even then, she says, the need would not be met.
Now is an exciting time for people concerned about disabled housing in Illinois, said Kenney, who attributed much of that success to Gov. Pat Quinn's leadership.
"I've been working in affordable housing for 17 years now and this is the first time that I really feel like the state has had a breakthrough in terms of its approach to housing of people with disabilities," she said.
Kenney credited tough decisions by Quinn to close a few mental institutions in the state in an effort to get people with disabilities back into their communities.
"It's healthier for the people and it's less expensive for the state," she said, adding that one of out every five units that her agency helped finance last year was for supportive housing. "Clearly, it's a better option than institutions."
At Myers Place, residents will start to move in this week, including one woman who is disabled and has been living in her car. Another tenant is from Mount Prospect but has been living in a nursing home in Decatur, said Mitch Bruski, CEO of the Kenneth Young Center.
The $13.2 million Myers Place features 21 one-bedroom and 18 studio furnished apartments. There is a community room, a kitchen, laundry facilities and offices for case managers from the Kenneth Young Center.
"These are individuals who desire the same things we all do," Berzac said. "A safe place to live that they can call home."
State politicians were on hand at Monday's opening in Mount Prospect, including state Sen. Julie Morrison, who said she wants Myers Place to be a model for permanent supportive housing elsewhere in Illinois.
"It can be done, it should be done and we need to do more of it," she said.
While projects in Wheeling, and a rejected plan in Arlington Heights, still sometimes face opposition from community members and local leaders, Keeney said it is important that there has been a change in attitude at the state level, which she hopes will continue to trickle down locally.
"The big thing that has occurred is a shift in how the policymakers approach this and it has to start there. How resources are allocated can determine outcomes," Kenney said. "I'm just excited to see so many targeted resources coming from the state and federal level now."