Florida and Special Needs Housing: Intentional Communities

Thursday, May 8th, 2014

Here at M&L Special Needs Planning, LLC, we juggle a lot of hats. As financial and life planning experts for families with special needs, we provide many, many services – we do everything from consulting with other financial and legal professionals, to helping individuals with disabilities obtain employment, to analyzing and making recommendations on insurance needs and future financial goals, and much, much more. (For a full listing of services, please check out our Services webpage.)

Over the last few years, we have expanded even further into the world of special needs life planning by focusing on special needs communities, specifically independent living programs and housing options. We are incredibly committed to providing solutions to the current special needs housing crisis – in fact, just last November we launched our very own Independent Living Program and Housing Project website, a database with information on more than 800 housing programs from across the United States. We are also currently involved in a number of special needs community development projects in Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Virginia.

We are passionately committed to helping families access information on special needs housing, and we love talking about the different housing programs that exist for individuals with disabilities. Last week, we wrote a blog about three independent living programs for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder and this week, we want to write about special needs housing again! Today, however, we will be narrowing our focus a little bit – please join us as we take a look at intentional communities, and examine three incredible examples that are located in Florida – Noah’s Arc, Promise in Brevard, and The Arc Village: Jacksonville.

What is an Intentional Community?

Around this time last year, M&L staff published a blog that was all about the intentional community and the various forms that this type of housing model can take. If you would like to read this detailed summary, please click here. For the purposes of today’s blog, however, this is what you need to know:

An intentional community is, quite simply, a group of people with a common purpose who choose to live together, working towards this purpose and a shared lifestyle.  There are four intentional community models: intergenerational community, collaboration with a college or university, co-housing, and the farmstead model.

Noah’s Arc

The first community we will examine is Noah’s Arc of Central Florida, an organization that provides living, employment, recreational and social opportunities to individuals with disabilities and their families. Founded in 1997, the organization is “committed to empowering individuals who have intellectual/developmental disabilities by advocating on their behalf and by providing or facilitating choices of meaningful employment, recreational and social opportunities, and affordable housing options in an inclusive community of their choice.”

The organization’s history certainly makes an interesting story – Noah’s Arc grew from the combined vision of five families that wanted to find/create housing and day programs for their children with disabilities that promoted involvement, inclusion, and purpose. Most importantly, they wanted a housing/recreational living model that wasn’t completely reliant on government funding. Noah’s Arc began by offering programming and activities to individuals with disabilities, and eventually grew into the all-encompassing organization that it is today – an organization that offers a full roster of recreational, social and employment opportunities. The organization also offers two housing model options – Noah’s Nest, and The Villages at Noah’s Landing.

Noah’s Nest was the first residential option to be developed. Described as an “enclave”, Noah’s Nest consists of 5 houses, offering independent living to 14 individuals with disabilities. The mini-community is within walking distance to most major amenities, including shopping, restaurants, a college, employment opportunities, and two beautiful lakes. It is also within a short distance to the public bus system.

The Villages at Noah’s Landing is “an inclusive community where individuals with and without disabilities have a place to truly belong.” The intentional community, which will be self-sustaining through community gardening, a farmyard, and a fish farming initiative, will feature “cozy villages with a variety of home styles.” Affordable, accessible, and inclusive, this community will provide a living option for individuals with disabilities that promote engagement through the activity center, and an “abundance of social, recreational and educational opportunities.”

The Villages at Noah’s Landing is not currently accepting applications – if you would like to be notified of when the application process begins, please complete the Residential Interest Survey. It is recommended that all potential residents become a member of Noah’s Arc, and have a guardianship and financial plan in place.

Promise in Brevard

Promise in Brevard is an intentional community development project that will be located in West Melbourne, FL.  The community will be built according to the “Promise Concept”, or the organization’s commitment to providing a “much-needed housing choice for individuals with special needs.”

The organization, which is spearheaded by special needs advocate Betsy Farmer, has a vision to create a community which is safe and supportive (recognizing that all individuals require different levels of support, and providing varying levels of support based on need), inclusive, and fun – all situated within a community of neighbors and friends who genuinely care.

Betsy, who has had experience with creating programs for individuals with disabilities (see the Space Coast Early Intervention Center and Brevard Business Leadership Network), envisions a community that fulfills all the needs of the residents who live there. In addition to safe and supportive housing options, Promise will also incorporate vocational training, on-site employment opportunities, and continuing education. Just as an example: Promise has entered into a partnership with the City of West Melbourne to create the Promise Café & Bakery, in the West Melbourne Community Park. Residents of Promise will be able to access training and employment opportunities at this café, as well as integrate into the wider community.  Other planned training and employment opportunities will include retail training, property management, landscaping, lawn care, and organic and plant gardening. As the Promise team promises,  “all residents that aren’t already employed will gain work skills that can help them attain employment at Promise or in the community.”

Although this community is still in the development stages, (the organization has purchased the Phase I parcel of land, consisting of 10.7 acres. This land will support housing for 100 people, an organic garden, and stables. The organization is fundraising for the purchase of the rest of the 28 acres, which will include a 9-acre subdivision for families of the individuals living at Promise. For more information, to become involved, or to donate please visit the organization’s website.

The Arc Village – Jacksonville

The Arc Village – Jacksonville is “Florida’s first planned community of affordable apartment-style rental homes for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.”

The community, which will be located next to major amenities (shopping, grocery, restaurants, medical facilities, employment opportunities), encourages resident involvement in the community, and interaction and engagement with family, neighbors, and community members. As the Arc’s website states, living in the community isn’t the same as being a part of the community. The Arc Villages aims to change that by serving as a gathering place for the “entire Jacksonville disabled community.”

The community will consist of 68 one-bedroom, one-bath apartments for single residents, and 29 two-bed/two-bath apartments for one or two residents. Each apartment is fully equipped for independent living, and offers access to a common deck area and walking training. The community center includes a community room, dining room, group activity areas, game room, fitness room, snack bar and movie room. There will also be an outdoor swimming pool, and other outdoor activities.

As mentioned, the community will be located next to major amenities, such as shops, restaurants, etc. Many of these businesses have been recognized for their employment of people with disabilities, and residents of The Arc will have access to supported employment services that will help them seek and sustain employment. These services also include work-based coaching, financial management and follow-along services to ensure their employment success.

There is currently no waiting list for this community; those interested in living at The Arc Village are asked to complete the residential interest form and submit it according to the instructions on the form. For more information, please visit the organization’s website.

Would you like more information, or need help with special needs housing?

If you would like more information on any of these programs, or special needs housing in general, please contact us. As we said, through a combination of personal and professional experience we have become experts in the field of special needs community living – if we can’t immediately recommend a program that is suitable for the needs of your child with a disability, we can help you find one, or help you create one.

As well, these three programs are all included in the more than 800 listings of independent living programs/housing options in our Independent Living Program and Housing Project database. If you would like to browse through more housing program listings from across the country, please subscribe to our database – all entries are organized by state, and include important eligibility and financial information. The database is consistently updated, and all subscribers are notified as to any changes or additions. To subscribe to this database, please click here.

Thanks so much for dropping by today! Have a great Thursday.

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