IFF’s Home First Project Integrates Health and Housing for Residents with Disabilities November 23, 2022

In a Nutshell

What: Home First, IFF’s in-house development group, is tasked with creating new models of affordable and accessible housing for people with disabilities. Building on more than a decade of development experience, Home First’s current project, Access Health and Housing, will create 20 new units of quality housing for residents transitioning out of nursing homes. Through a partnership with Trinity Health, the project will establish a new model for Home First developments by deeply integrating community-based health services with affordable, accessible housing.
Sector: Supportive housing
Location: Maywood, IL
Cost: $9.4 million
Sources of Funding and Financing: Illinois Housing Development Authority, Trinity Health, National Housing Trust Fund, Weinberg Foundation, ComEd, IFF
IFF Role: Project developer
IFF Staff Leads: Dena Bell, Managing Director, Development; Leticia Valencia, Program Manager, Home First
Design: WJW Architects
General Contractor: Blackwood Group
Impact: Creation of 20 new scattered-site supportive housing units that will be affordable and accessible to residents with disabilities who are transitioning out of nursing care facilities and into community-integrated housing.

“I’ve lived in a series of nursing homes, and when you live in a nursing home, all of your dignity, your choices are taken away,” disability activist Michael Grice told WTTW during a 2020 interview. “But now I make my own choices.”

For Grice, who has used a wheelchair for much of his adult life, and more than 2.3 million other adults in Illinois with a disability, the ability to make choices about what to do and when to do it depends on being able to find an accessible, affordable home that is fully integrated with the community around it. Because of the extremely limited supply of such housing, however, congregate settings like nursing homes are the only viable housing option for many of these Illinoisans with limited income. That was true for Grice for many years until moving in 2012 into a fully accessible, one-bedroom apartment in the Buena Park neighborhood on Chicago’s North Side.

Grice’s apartment is one of more than 300 in Illinois created through Home First, IFF’s full-service housing development group tasked with establishing new models of housing for people with disabilities while revitalizing vacant or underutilized properties. With few developers out there with the expertise, scale, and motivation to create such housing, IFF bridges a gap in community development through Home First – which reflects our belief that everyone has the right to live in a safe, affordable, and independent setting that meets their needs and enables them to fully participate in their communities.

Leveraging a myriad of partnerships, Home First has completed nine projects at distinct sites across the state since its launch in 2011 as a response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1999 Olmstead Decree (Olmstead). Establishing that people with disabilities have the right to live in the least restrictive setting possible, Olmstead led to litigation in Illinois, resulting in three consent decrees (Colbert, Williams, Ligas) that opened the door to a $15 million capital grant from the State of Illinois for Home First’s initial project – the development of almost 100 accessible and affordable homes in partnership with Access Living. The state’s investment in the program leveraged an additional $4 million grant from JPMorgan Chase and a $125,000 commitment from The Chicago Community Trust, establishing a model for public-private partnership that continues today.

In fact, since 2011 Home First has secured $103 million in grants, loans, and tax credit equity to facilitate the development of affordable, accessible homes in Illinois optimized for residents with disabilities, which are subsidized with project-based rental assistance to ensure long-term affordability.

Because of limited policy supports for this type of housing, each Home First project requires a unique mix of funding and financing sources and creativity in how they’re applied, resulting in slightly different development approaches for each project. While this increases the complexity of the development process for Home First projects, it also facilitates the establishment of new models for accessible, affordable housing that can then be replicated by other developers, as is the case with Home First’s latest project.

Integrating Health and Housing in Chicago’s Western Suburbs

Located in Maywood, IL, Access Health and Housing will create 20 units of accessible, scattered-site supportive housing spread across six new buildings that are expected to be completed by February 2023. Like Home First’s initial project, Access Health and Housing is the result of the public and private sectors working together to create quality housing for residents with disabilities, with a new focus on deeply integrating health services to ensure residents can conveniently manage their health with the support of community-based services while living independently in their own homes. The $9.4 million project will leverage funding from the Illinois Housing Development Authority via its Permanent Supportive Housing program, project-based rental assistance from the State of Illinois, grants from The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation and ComEd, IFF equity, and financing from development partner Trinity Health (Trinity).

The integration of health and housing will be accomplished in part by virtue of Access Health and Housing’s location in Maywood. Just blocks from the Hines VA Hospital campus and Loyola University Medical Center, which is owned by Trinity, the project will put residents in close proximity to high-quality health care. Further cementing the integration of health and housing will be a health care flex-space operated in partnership with Trinity that will be located on the ground floor of one of the Access Health and Housing buildings. This space will facilitate a variety of health-focused sessions, classes, and other programming from Trinity and other local health providers. The sessions will be open for Access Health and Housing residents and local community members. By investing in the project and providing programmatic support, Trinity Health will align its hospital ministries with local work focused on health and housing.

Amplifying the value of these integrated health services will be programming offered by the Progress Center for Independent Living in Forest Park, an adjacent community. The Progress Center offers job training, transportation, food access, and peer networking groups for individuals with all types of disabilities, among other services.

“Home First has always focused on improving the quality of life for residents by prioritizing community integration,” says IFF Managing Director for Development Dena Bell. “For someone living independently after moving out of a nursing home, being able to easily access services of their choosing in their own community is an important component of long-term stability.”

Access Health and Housing apartments are new construction being built on vacant parcels of land acquired from the Village of Maywood and the Cook County Land Bank, providing significant value to the community and Home First residents alike.

“Each of the lots that are being developed through Access Health and Housing have been vacant for 20 years or more,” says Bell. “Most housing developers wouldn’t be interested in building on single lots like these, but they’re a perfect fit for Home First. Not only are we putting troubled properties to a more productive use, but we’re also able to provide quality, accessible housing for residents that’s fully integrated with the community around it.”

The apartment buildings developed through Access Health and Housing will be a mix of three- and four-flats, with fully accessible one- and two-bedroom apartments on the ground floors with accessible baths and workspaces, front-control appliances, casement windows, and sliding interior doors for privacy in bedrooms and baths. Apartments on the upper floors, which will also be one- and two-bedroom units, will contain universal design features like accessible workspaces, wide doorways, and audio-visual alarms. All of the apartments will include energy star appliances to reduce utility costs, in-unit laundry, central air conditioning, and dedicated parking spaces at each of the six buildings.

One-bedroom apartments will be approximately 750 square feet, and two-bedroom apartments will be roughly 1,000 square feet – with rents between $900 and $1,000 per month subsidized by project-based rental assistance to keep the apartments affordable to residents. In keeping with Home First’s mission, occupancy will preference individuals relocating out of nursing care facilities back to community settings, with referrals processed through the Statewide Referral Network.

“The integration of health and housing is talked about frequently, but Access Health and Housing demonstrates what that can look like for residents with disabilities,” says Bell. “This model, enabled by a partnership with a health system, is one that can be replicated elsewhere to enable more people with disabilities to live with the dignity they deserve.”


Access Health and Housing in the News

Though construction began on the Access Health and Housing project in March 2022, an official groundbreaking event was held in September in conjunction with a celebration of Home First’s first decade of impact. In addition to IFF staff, attendees included State Representative Emanuel “Chris” Welch, Speaker of the House, 7th District; Village of Maywood Mayor Nathaniel George Booker; Illinois Housing Development Authority Executive Director Kristin Faust, and Trinity Health Vice President for Community Health & Well-Being Jaime Dircksen, among others. Check out media coverage of the event from Fox 32 Chicago and the Village Free Press.

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