Housing Options for Individuals with Disabilities: Intentional Communities

Thursday, May 2nd, 2013

“Creating and sustaining safe, accessible, affordable and integrated housing [for persons with disabilities] continues to involve challenging and complex barriers that arise from the interaction of poverty, inaccessibility, funding rules related to acquiring supportive services, and a disability policy system rooted in the outmoded model of segregating people with disabilities from the community mainstream.” Excerpt taken from the National Council on Disability’s report “The State of Housing in America in the 21st Century: A Disability Perspective”, 2010.

Last week, in preparation for the mid-2013 launch of our very own Housing Report (a report which will provide users with information on the various independent living and housing programs which exist across the country), we decided to write a post which briefly outlined the various housing options open to individuals with disabilities. As a part of this discussion we delved into a number of options, for example staying in the family home, renting a property, purchasing a home, adult fostering (as a part of family care), as well as group homes and licensed facilities. To read about these housing options in more detail, please visit last week’s blog. We also briefly mentioned Intentional Communities as a housing option. But to the complexity of this option, however, we decided to revisit the topic this week with an in-depth, detailed discussion of intentional communities and the four models which are relevant to individuals with disabilities.

According to the Fellowship for Intentional Community’s website, an intentional community is “a group of people who have chosen to live together with a common purpose, working cooperatively to create a lifestyle that reflects their shared core values.” This community may exist in a single home, on a shared piece of land, in an urban neighborhood, or in a cluster of houses. Though each intentional community may be vastly different in location, organization, values, goals, and priorities, they all share one thing in common: they are built around the ideals of communal living, mutual support and the importance of “belonging” to a community.  As mentioned, there are four models of intentional communities that are relevant to individuals with disabilities: Intergenerational Community as Intervention, collaboration with a college or university, the farmstead, and co-housing.

Intergenerational Community as Intervention, or ICI, is “a geographically contained community in which residents are facing a specific challenge around which the entire community organizes.[Endnote]” The ICI is built around the idea that social relationships are important to all people, and can have a positive impact on individuals in a variety of ways. This model also recognizes that in order for positive social relationships to work, they must be situated in a supportive context – for example, positive social relationships are most effective when they are located within a block, a neighborhood, or a community which is free from crime and other negative influences.

Essentially, an ICI is built around this model of establishing positive, social relationships within a supportive context. They are intended to foster natural relationships and lifetime commitments in people of all ages.  The ICI must span three generations – families with children and older adults (mostly retired). The families with children provide homes to a particular population of individuals with special needs, while seniors in the community receive reduced rent and act as volunteers to provide support to the family. In turn, as seniors age, families return that support to the older adults.

One example of this type of community is Hope Meadows, an ICI developed by an organization named Generations of Hope. Their model has been designed around fostered and adopted children. For more information, please visit their website.

The second model of Intentional Communities involves collaboration with a college or university. In this case, adults with disabilities, their family members, and a non-profit organization teams with a college or university to provide housing units for both adults with disabilities and students. The students and adults share space for group and social activities, with each resident interacting, supporting and learning from each other. This option can be established on a large scale, with complex financing, or it can be replicated on a much smaller scale.

The third type of intentional community is the farmstead. This combines housing and vocational opportunities for individuals with disabilities, in a rural setting. This model can be adapted to suit the varying levels of needs and abilities as all residents participate in meaningful work on a daily basis. One example of a farmstead intentional community is Farmsteads of New England. According to their website, this community “caters to the needs of people who have autism and other developmental disabilities. [They] provide [the] programs’ participants with meaningful work and numerous opportunities for recreation and socialization.[Endnote]” Farmsteads of New England offers day and respite programs in addition to their on-site living programs. For those who live on-site, residential services focused on daily living skills are provided, and most buildings which house residents have a live in mentor to offer overnight support.

The last model of intentional communities is co-housing, a type of collaborative housing in which residents actively participate in the design and operation of their own community. According to the cohousing.org website, these communities are typically built as a cluster of attached or single family homes on streets surrounding a courtyard. This design is intended to foster a sense of the old-fashioned community; the design encourages social contact through shared common spaces, for example a community “common house” typically provides space for communal meals (not often required), a lounge, recreational facilities and children’s spaces. This type of community accounts for privacy for individuals by providing individual homes, however residents in the community share a sense of commitment to mutual support, respect, and the fostering of community relationships. As a result, community decisions are made through consensus. For more information on cohousing, please visit cohousing.org.

We hope that this discussion of intentional communities has provided you with meaningful information and a greater understanding of the types of housing options available for individuals with disabilities. As mentioned, our own Housing Report, which will offer information on various housing and independent living programs across the country, will be launched on our website mid-2013. We also address planning for future housing needs as a part of our Comprehensive Special Needs Financial Life Plan.

For more information on housing options available to individuals with special needs, or any other topic pertaining to special needs planning, please contact us. We are more than happy to provide assistance!  Also, check out our workshop series – we offer each workshop free of charge, and we are currently looking for new venues in which to present our workshops. If you are interested in hosting a workshop at your venue, give us a call! We are happy to travel.


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