Bold New Housing Options for People with Disabilities

Man in wheelchair washing dishes in the kitchen sink

Levels of independence vary widely among people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). Your loved one might seek independence, but not be prepared for the responsibility. Conversely, they may be prepared for independent living, but unable to find safe, adequate housing.

A lack of safe and affordable housing is the No. 1 issue facing people with IDD, according to The Arc, an organization that protects the rights of and promotes inclusion for people with IDD. In addition, the need for quality housing is outpacing availability. The first wave of children diagnosed with Autism have come of age with 500,000 more to follow over the next 15 to 20 years. So what is the solution?

The good news is that in the past five years we’ve seen some creative and bold new housing options for people with IDD. Today’s choices range from traditional to innovative and fall into three broad categories we’ll classify as family, shared and community living. Options include roommates, family homes, group homes and communities, each with their own pros and cons relative to your loved one.

Let’s look at the options available today from the most traditional to bold new choices for true integration.

Family Living:

  1. Family Living: Familiar to most, family living is just that, living with your family. This comes with challenges. People with IDD often seek independence, which they don’t usually find when living with family. In addition, family living comes with the risk of children outliving parents or aging parents no longer able to care for their loved one.
  2. Linked Living: Much like family living, linked living usually happens within the family home, but provides more independence and autonomy with the security of family nearby. In linked-living situations, individuals with IDD have their own “apartment” or even small (tiny) home located on the family property. Think of an apartment over the garage, in-law suite, or an addition with a private bath and small kitchen. This provides some privacy, independence and self-sufficiency. However, it comes at a cost. The family must have property to accommodate linked-living arrangements and the means to expand or build-out to meet their loved one’s needs. For some, linked living provides the best of both worlds, but doesn’t address the issue of aging parents.

Shared Living:

  • Co-living: Having a roommate is a rite of passage for many young adults. Individuals with IDD who have the interest in and are prepared for independent living have the option to share housing along with chores such as cooking, cleaning and shopping. In these situations, roommates are often people with IDD and support can be brought into the home as needed. Roommates support one another and can become friends or have compatibility issues.
  • Group homes: A popular current-day staple for people with IDD, group homes provide housing and up to 24/7 support for multiple people with varying levels of need. Group homes are a great option for people who need a higher level of support. They’re also often the only option for individuals who lean toward independent living but have been unable to find alternatives within their community.
  • Host homes: Much like family living or foster-care arrangements, host homes provide supportive living for people with IDD. Hosts are generally equipped to deliver more individual support, but in a family home setting where the individual with IDD can become or feel like a “member of the family.” While not generally considered when there’s family to care for a loved one, host homes can serve as a transition from family living to group homes or independent living. They can also aid in the transition from aging parents’ homes.

Community Living:

  • Friendly Housemates: Living in a house or apartment with a roommate who is a friend and caregiver is a newer concept in the realm of shared living. A new roommate matching service in Minnesota called Rumi helps connect individuals who have a disability (intellectual or physical) with caregiver-roommates who can provide the required supports. This option tends to work best for people who seek independence and need more significant supports. In 2019, Inclusion, a quarterly peer-reviewed journal that promotes inclusion for people with IDD, published a study exploring “friendly housemates.” In the study, students served as roommate, friend and caregiver to people with IDD and while there were challenges, the results were encouraging.
  • Integrated housing: The practice of housing residents with IDD within a housing community, apartment, or individual home where most residents do not live with a disability is integrated housing. Integrated housing helps people with IDD participate fully within their communities. Unlike group homes, gated communities or farmsteads, the best integrated housing exists within a larger community where people with IDD can participate in social, work and other community activities outside of their home.
  • Social Communities: Bringing people with similar goals, beliefs, interests or other attributes together, transforms integrated housing into a social community. Residents of varying age, income and experiences create a diverse community. A common interest, outlook or belief encourages a social environment within the community and better more satisfying quality of life. People with IDD can thrive in social communities when there’s a common interest, whether they live independently or bring in numerous supports.

AbleLight Village in Victoria, Minnesota, is a great new example of a social community. Residents began moving into this first-of-its-kind faith-based community last month. AbleLight Village integrates adults with IDD and adults 55 and greater. The community includes private apartments and town homes along with social gathering spaces to support resident’s shared interests and encourage socializing among residents. Learn more about AbleLight Village – Victoria as AbleLight plans to bring AbleLight Village communities to other cities and states across the nation.

With so many bold new housing options to choose from, there’s sure to be one or more that will meet the needs of your loved ones.