Suzanne Smith-Elekes says she used to have a lot of what she called terrified nights.
She and her husband, both 54, have a 24-year-old son who is autistic. He holds part-time jobs, but can’t work full time, she says.
What terrified Smith-Elekes so much was worrying what would happen to her son if something happened to her and her husband, David, and as they age.
"How do you find reliable people who won’t take advantage of him?" she asked.
Thousands of families have the same fears. They worry what will happen to their children with disabilities when they die. They don’t save for retirement. They save to support their children after they are gone, or they just hope they will be able to outlive their children.
Last year, David Buuck, who understands the large number of parents facing the same issues, came up with what he hopes is the answer.
He started a nonprofit called CASS Housing, which stands for customizable, affordable, sustainable and safe housing. Its long-term goal is to raise $5.5 million and build homes for people with disabilities and have stewards who would provide varying degrees of oversight.
Gloria Doty, 70, has the same worries Smith-Elekes has. Her daughter, 32, has autism and Asperger’s syndrome and a mild intellectual disability. Her daughter lives with her now, but Doty knows that won’t last forever.
"I’m not doing her any favors," letting her live at home, Doty said. Someday her daughter will be alone, and she’ll need to be able to fend for herself. "It scares me to death," Doty said.
Buuck’s solution, Doty said, "was an answer to my prayers. You don’t want to just stick her in an apartment," she said of her daughter.
Buuck, as executive director of CASSHousing, has teamed up with Zach Benedict of MKM Architecture + Design and Kevan Biggs of Ideal Suburban Homes to build homes that suit those needs. MKM has developed three housing models for people with varying needs, and Ideal plans to build them.
Parents of children with disabilities started lining up right away. Buuck said 100 percent of the families they made contact with say they want CASS Housing and 64 families are already on a waiting list.
Buucks’ plan is to have three levels of housing. One would involve building four-plexes, where three individuals who could live independently would have their own apartments, paying about $300 a month plus utilities. A steward would occupy the fourth apartment and get free rent and utilities.
The second model is like a single-family home designed for people who can function but need daily assistance. A steward would act as a stay-at-home parent, helping with cooking and other chores. The steward would be paid about $1,500 a month.
A third model would be for individuals who need 24-hour support and can’t cook, bathe, handle medications or travel alone. Staff would provide the care, but a steward would also live on-site to make sure the staff care is adequate.
The housing units would be built at various locations.
There’s a definite need, Buuck said. In Allen County 1 person in 6 has some type of developmental disability, and an additional 1 to 3 percent have intellectual disabilities.
Benedict of MKM said Buuck approached him because his firm is known for designs that specialize in health and well being.
The plan, Benedict said, is to give residents a sense of independence and belonging because people who live together will be carefully matched.
"The reason we’re so excited is because it serves a population that often gets ignored," Benedict said. "It’s nice to see it happening in Fort Wayne."
Biggs, with Ideal, said he’s been discussing designs with Buuck for six months or more. He said Ideal has been in the building business for 50 years and single and multi-family buildings have always been the company’s strong suit.
Biggs also understands the need for housing for people with needs. He has a brother who was left a quadriplegic after an accident in 2002.
"Once we get the product out there and people understand it, there will be a lot of demand," Biggs said.
So far, CASS Housing has only $53,000 in cash, not enough to build much, but Three Rivers Professional Credit Union has agreed to offer financing.
Buuck said his goal is to raise $5.5 million to build the needed housing.
Buuck hopes the first home, a quadruplex, can be completed by this summer or fall.