Cheryl McGuire wakes up when she wants to. She says her morning prayers, puts on some Bobby Darin and straightens up her one-bedroom apartment before running errands or meeting friends.
Even the most mundane task feels like an accomplishment to McGuire, a disabled adult who until a few weeks ago lived in a nursing facility where her activity, diet and sleep were coordinated by a team of professionals. Her newfound independence is a perk of living in Garden Village in south Sacramento – the first apartment complex in the nation to take advantage of funding under a revamped federal program designed to give low-income, disabled adults quick access to affordable housing.
The new Section 811 funding, managed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Health and Human Services, provides subsidized housing to disabled individuals, keeping them out of an institution or off the streets. A team of state agencies, including the California Housing Finance Agency and the Department of Health Care Services, has received approximately $24 million to carry out the federal program since February 2013.
Much of that grant money is going toward rent in the previously dilapidated and crime-ridden Willow Pointe complex, which reopened this spring as Garden Village after a $12 million renovation.
Located near Stockton Boulevard and Florin Road, the complex formerly had 250 one-bedroom and two-bedroom units that have been reconfigured into 195 larger units designed to accommodate families. The makeover also included two new playgrounds, community gardens, a community center for after-school programs and a handicapped-accessible swimming pool. About 10 percent of units are compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act regulations.
“I have been waiting for something like this all my life,” said McGuire, 59, who lost her right leg after a fall in 1993. “I didn’t want to be in a nursing home. This is what I want. I want to be out in the community and be able to live in my own place, because I never really did have my own place.”
Domus Development, a Northern California company that’s created everything from artists’ lofts in San Francisco to senior housing in Curtis Park, purchased the property from U.S. Bank. Domus teamed up with Home & Health Care Management, a private agency that helps older disabled adults transition into independent living, to identify possible tenants for the handicapped-accessible units.
Home & Health Care Management works with skilled nursing facilities and other institutions to determine which patients want to move out and whether they are ready. A team of nurses and social workers creates a transitional care plan to make sure the individual has everything he or she needs in the new location, from at-home caregivers to community-based services such as Meals on Wheels. The agency has moved eight individuals into Garden Village in the past three months. Each pays between $120 and $150 per month in rent.
While some patients who want to leave a nursing facility have a home to go back to, many do not – and they end up on a wait list for Section 8 housing vouchers that can be three years long, said Julie Lehmann of Home & Health Care Management. When placing a disabled adult, the care team looks for locations that are close to stores, pharmacies and public transit. Opportunities like Garden Village are few and far between, Lehmann said.
“There’s a huge number that want to transition out, and there’s very little housing,” she said. “The biggest challenge when they come out after being institutionalized for a long time is getting them back into the community … but they’re all used to their apartments now and being able to do what they want to do.”
The renovation was a big step not just for the disabled residents, but for the rest of the Garden Village complex and its surrounding neighborhood, said Sacramento County Supervisor Patrick Kennedy. The former apartment complex generated police service calls on a regular basis. Kennedy said he expects to see less crime and a more positive atmosphere in the new space.
At a media event last month, Kennedy joined speakers from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the California Department of Health Care Services to usher in the new community.
“It’s an opportunity to finally link health and housing,” he said. “It’s something that this community and communities across the country need more of, and I’m proud to say that it happened first here in Sacramento County, in District 2.”