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The Journal Gazette

  • A ribbon-cutting will be Sunday for the first CASS Housing development at 515 Constance Ave. (Mike Moore | The Journal Gazette)

  • Buuck

Tuesday, January 15, 2019 1:00 am

Nonprofit provides housing to developmentally disabled

ROSA SALTER RODRIGUEZ | The Journal Gazette

If you go

What: Ribbon-cutting for the first CASS Housing supportive living home for adults with developmental/intellectual disabilities

When: 1 p.m. Sunday

Where: 515 Constance Ave., Fort Wayne

For more information: Go to www.casshousing.org

A new way to house adults with developmental or intellectual disabilities is taking shape on Constance Avenue on the north side of Fort Wayne.

It's the vision of a Fort Wayne nonprofit organization that is starting to come to life. 

CASS Housing – the acronym stands for Customizable Affordable Sustainable Safe – plans a ribbon-cutting Sunday for its first suite-style home at 515 Constance Ave.

Monday, carpenters and other trades workers scurried to finish the interior of the home, just east of Clinton Street and north of the Turnstone complex.

Meanwhile, a vacant lot just down the street is being prepped for CASS' second phase of development. Set for that site are three two-story, six-unit apartment-style buildings, with a seventh apartment for a caretaker called a steward.

The plan is set for a Fort Wayne Plan Commission public hearing next month.

David Buuck, the agency's executive director, said the housing answers an increasingly common dilemma of parents as their  children with disability diagnoses become adults. 

CASS intends to serve adults with autism/Asperger's syndrome, cerebral palsy, spinal bifida, Down syndrome and traumatic brain injury, he said.

Restrictions are that the disability must have been diagnosed before age 22, he said, and the housing is not intended for people with primarily physical disabilities.

Candidates are people who can need help or support services to  live independently, Buuck said. Some will likely be able to work part time but aren't financially able or capable of living entirely on their own, he said.

The housing will ease a big worry of parents, who are afraid of  what might happen to their son or daughter as the parent caretaker ages or dies, he said.

It's a problem that didn't exist a few decades ago, as many children did not reach adulthood or spent only a few years as adults, Buuck said.   

The units, which are being built with private financing, would offer an alternative to group homes, living with a parent or relative, or other solutions, including a few private landlords willing to rent to those with disabilities, he said. 

“What we're offering is it's housing plus support services,” Buuck said. 

Buuck said the idea for the program started in 2016, but the first location for the residences in southwest Fort Wayne didn't pan out. Since then, CASS has worked to raise more than $600,000 from private donors, including foundations, to buy property and build the first house.

It contains three residences plus a fourth for a steward, which at the onset will be Buuck and his family. The home, he said, qualifies as a single-family home with an accessory use – a classification typically used for homes with a so-called mother-in-law suite.

The three residences, each about 500 square feet, have their own living area, bedroom and bath. Residences also have a kitchenette with a sink and refrigerator but no stove, which is not allowed under zoning rules, Buuck said.

Residents would be able to have a microwave or toaster-type oven and, likely, a hot-plate unit. The three occupants would also have a common area and a shared full kitchen.

The apartments would be similar in design but would have their own kitchens, Buuck said.

Marketing materials for the program say residents pay about 40 percent of their Social Security-based income as a program fee plus a portion of utilities.

Other more intensive models, including family-style and family-plus living arrangements are still in the early planning stages, according to Buuck, who sees the model as being useful beyond the current target market

There are about 160 people wanting a spot, he said, adding that with national statistics showing 1 in 6 children have a developmental disability, as many a 60,000 people in Allen County might be struggling with housing.

“We see this model as appropriate for other people – seniors, veterans, the homeless,” Buuck said, adding he's had inquiries from five other cities in Indiana and 13 states.

“It's a growing crisis, and there's no real good answers,” he added.

The apartment plan, including a plan for garage facilities,  requires an approval of a primary development plan with two variances, but are on approximately one acre of appropriately zoned land.

The public hearing will take place at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 11 in Citizens Square.

rsalter@jg.net