Partners (Fall 2001)

Unique Solutions for Special Needs Housing

by Janet Hamer

Janet Hamer, Community Investment Advisor, is in the Jacksonville branch and serves North Florida.

When communities consider the needs of its disabled citizens, particularly the developmentally disabled, it is often in the context of social services. The reality is that disabled individuals and their families have the same basic needs as all of our citizens, including affordable housing and economic opportunities to lead self-sufficient lives.

Grove House, a Jacksonville, Florida nonprofit organization, was formed in 1993 by a small group of committed individuals, many of whom had family members with disabilities. It has since evolved into being the primary provider of housing opportunities in northeast Florida for adults with developmental and acquired disabilities.

In 1998, Grove House Executive Director Shari Weitzner approached the City of Jacksonville’s Housing Services Division and the Duval County Housing Finance Authority with the idea of providing independent living in a group setting for the special needs clients that are served by Grove House.

Out of this partnership evolved an ongoing program to provide second mortgage assistance to purchase single family houses for use as small independent living homes. The second mortgages were provided in the form of forgivable grants. Sources included State of Florida SHIP (State Housing Initiatives Partnerships Program) funds and the city’s federally funded HOME program. First Alliance Bank, a local thrift institution, has provided first mortgages for the purchase of 10 single-family homes. David Strickland, president of First Alliance Bank, has stated that in addition to the bank providing housing opportunities for people in its community., the loans made sound business sense because the second mortgage subsidies allowed the bank to have a 60 percent loan-to-value position.

The CASA (Convenient, Afford-able, Safe, Attractive) program provides affordable rental housing convenient to public transportation and employment in safe, single-family neighborhoods. Twenty-seven clients are now residents of the houses. Rents are determined on a sliding scale based on income and range from $200 to $225 a month.

The Florida Developmental Disabilities Council has designated Grove House as a state demonstration site to develop affordable housing programs for individuals with developmental and acquired disabilities. A total of $55,000 has been earmarked to fund operational expenses over a two-year period for the program. Addition-ally, the Florida Housing Coalition awarded Grove House an “Award of Special Recognition” for outstanding achievement in creating community based housing opportunities for Floridians.

The newest housing program to be implemented by Grove House is a homeownership program. The Florida Developmental Disabilities Council has funded a demonstration project designed to facilitate affordable homeownership opportunities for individuals with developmental disabilities. As a result of this grant, Grove House created a user-friendly training manual to assist in the homeownership process. Information in this manual is being presented at a customized training course offered by Jacksonville Consumer Credit Counseling Services. Eighty persons are either enrolled or scheduled to be enrolled in this course.

Another crucial component of the organization’s mission of enabling the developmentally disabled to lead productive, dignified and independent lives is economic self-sufficiency. A supported employment initiative is underway to assist clients to be successfully integrated into the work force. Ninety percent of the Grove House clients are either employed in the private sector or are enrolled in training for employment.

Grove House has taken an innovative approach to addressing the needs of the developmentally disabled that looks beyond the context of social services. By forming strategic partnerships, the organization is providing unique opportunities for these individuals to obtain self-sufficiency and lead productive, independent lives.




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