Homes, Independence for Disabled Bay Area Residents


Ashley Oliver was used to people telling her that she would never be able to take care of herself or live on her own.

One recent afternoon, sitting in the lovely one-bedroom apartment where she now lives alone in Redwood City, Oliver, 29, described how nice it feels to prove them all wrong.

“To have my own place is to have my own freedom,” said Oliver, who suffers from epilepsy and an intellectual disability that affects his ability to learn and adapt. “I have worked very hard to get to where I am.”

Ashley Oliver poses for a photo at home at the first place she lived alone in Redwood City, Calif. On Tuesday, October 12, 2021. Housing Choices helps adults with developmental and developmental disabilities find affordable housing and live decently independent. (Anda Chu / Bay Area News Group)

This milestone was made possible in part by Housing Choices, a non-profit organization that helps adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities find affordable housing and live independently. The organization is addressing a massive and growing need in the Bay Area, where rent prices eclipse what many people with disabilities can earn by working part-time in low-paying jobs or through Social Security, has said Executive Director Janette Stokley.

Housing Choices helps clients through every step of the complicated and intimidating affordable housing search – from securing a subsidized housing voucher and finding an apartment to furnishing their new home and developing good housekeeping practices.

There are approximately 15,000 people with developmental and intellectual disabilities living in Santa Clara County, where Housing Choices is located, Stokley said. The organization also serves the counties of San Mateo, Santa Cruz, Monterey and San Benito.

Many people eligible for their services live with their parents. But as the lifespan of adults with disabilities increases thanks to better medical care and social services, they are increasingly likely to outlive their parents – and potentially find themselves with nowhere to go.

And as the population of adults with disabilities grows – in part due to an increase in autism diagnoses in recent decades – housing options for them are shrinking. Small group homes that provide housing and support for people with disabilities were once a ubiquitous solution, but they are closing left and right as housing prices continue to rise, Stokley said.

Thus, Housing Choices strives to create more options. The non-profit association partners with developers of affordable housing and convinces them to reserve units in their buildings for people with disabilities. So far, Housing Choices has secured 300 new units in 19 buildings in Santa Clara, San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties. It plans to add 300 more units over the next five years.

Ashley Oliver takes a sip of tea at home at the first place she lived alone in Redwood City, Calif. On Tuesday, October 12, 2021 (Anda Chu / Bay Area News Group)

Many of the organization’s clients have never lived alone before and need help adjusting. Thus, Housing Choices does not leave as soon as the lease is signed. Through its My New Home program, the association provides each client with dishes, pots and pans, linens, towels, cleaning products and anything else they may need. This holiday season, Housing Choices hopes to raise $ 5,000 for these supplies through Wish Book. If the organization is successful, it can increase the number of people helped through My New Home by a third, Stokley said.

“It’s part of a larger role where we encourage them to be successful in their apartment,” she said. “If this is the first time you are moving into your apartment, we want you to be a good tenant and have a nice place to live.

REDWOOD CITY, CA – OCTOBER 12: Ashley Oliver watches her pet fish while posing for a home photo at the first place she lived alone in Redwood City, Calif. On Tuesday, October 12, 2021. Housing Choices Help Adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities to find affordable housing and live independently. (Anda Chu / Bay Area News Group)

Prior to finding Housing Choices, Oliver couldn’t afford market rent and lived in an unfinished basement.

Housing Choices helped her secure a subsidized housing voucher and find an apartment with two small patios, where Oliver now lives surrounded by tanks that house his beloved collection of colorful fish. The association also provided furniture.

When Oliver got behind on rent payments because she didn’t know what she owed, Housing Choices helped her figure it out.

“I’m completely caught up on my rent now and pay everything on time,” Oliver, who works in food services at the Menlo Park campus, told Facebook. “And things are going well.

Despite the efforts of Housing Choices, there aren’t enough units for everyone in the Bay Area who needs them. Each of the association’s 19 properties has a waiting list of hundreds of people. Staff tell clients that the process of obtaining accommodation can take between three and five years.

DALY CITY, CA – OCTOBER 14: Karim Tulloch paints a sculpture of a BART train at his home in Daly City, Calif. On Thursday, October 14, 2021. Tulloch lives with his mother and sister while he waits for his first place where he will live alone. Housing Choices helps adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities find affordable housing and live independently. (Anda Chu / Bay Area News Group)

Prior to connecting with Housing Choices, Karim Tulloch, who suffers from autism spectrum disorder, had been looking for an affordable apartment for years. He lived for a few months in a group home in San Francisco, but he didn’t like the clutter and he disagreed with the staff. He ended up returning to live with his mother and sister in Daly City.

Housing Choices recently helped Tulloch apply for an apartment in one of their new properties – Iamesi Village in downtown San Jose. He has been accepted and is now waiting to know when he can move in.

Tulloch is grateful for the help of Housing Choices.

“Living alone might not be the easiest thing,” he said, “so it’s good to have some help, someone to support you through the process. “


THE WISH BOOK SERIES
The Wish Book is an annual series of The Mercury News that invites readers to help their neighbors.

TO WISH
Housing Choices is seeking donations to help pay for basic household supplies – dishes, pots and pans, linens, and anything their clients may need when they start living independently. Goal: $ 5,000.

HOW TO GIVE
Donate to wishbook.mercurynews.com or mail the coupon.

ONLINE SUPPLEMENT
Read more Wish Book stories, view photos and videos on wishbook.mercurynews.com.

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