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Community Leaders Who Are Improving the Inclusive Housing Landscape for Adults with I/DD

Housing solutions for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) often begin at the most grassroots level - with parents and their child with an I/DD.

Many families search for an affordable housing option that will provide their adult child a balance of independence and community. With limited options, parents struggle with what the future will hold for their child when they are no longer able to be their primary caregiver or provide the guidance and support needed.

There are examples in Maryland, Florida, northern California, Arizona and also here in Colorado of concerned parents and other stakeholders coming together to solve the problem. Boulder County is one example where parents, stakeholders and community leaders have come together to further the progress of inclusive housing. Among them are Karen Zeid, Ailsa Wonnacott, and Rebecca Seiden. Although from different backgrounds, they are working together to bring inclusive housing to their community through the Housing Advocacy Network convened by the Association for Community Living (ACL), which is the ARC serving Boulder and Broomfield Counties.

Karen Zeid is an activist and a parent of an adult child with I/DD, and brings a family perspective through her adult daughter. She believes her daughter would thrive in a community that offers a consistent network of support and provides a trusting space for her to develop friendships in her daily living environment. Karen identifies a number of rather simple accommodations in the built environment, such as color floor identification, visual signs, natural light and quiet spaces. As Karen puts it, “Easier for you and I to adapt to the simple shifts needed to better accommodate people with disabilities. So much can trigger someone with a disability, the more shifts we make the more independence, safety and happier life they can have.”

It remains vital that people with I/DD have more choice in the setting in which they live. Support is critical for people with disabilities. The situation for Karen and her daughter is by no means unique. According to her, there are 1990 people in Boulder who live with a caregiver over the age of 60. And this is only one community in Colorado.

Rebecca Seiden is the I/DD Mill Levy Program Coordinator for Boulder County, which provides a key resource for the I/DD community. Her program administers the funds from the development disabilities property tax, approved by voters in 2002, which supports developmental disabilities programs in Boulder County. Housing is among the growing priorities for her program.

Rebecca feels that parent participation and data can help community efforts develop. “I think it is partly because we have such active parent groups such as our wonderful ACL. Additionally, because we have the Needs Assessment where Housing is a priority need which brings more people and the County into the discussion,” said Rebecca.

Indeed local or regional housing assessments are a good place for communities to begin a discussion about inclusive housing. A current bill in the state Senate, SB24-174 - Sustainable Affordable Housing Assistance, was drafted concerning the statewide, regional, and local housing needs assessments and housing action plans. Along housing needs assessments and plans there is the need to engage the I/DD community and related stakeholders. Karen says, “We need a state marketing plan to alert people that they are not alone and to start thinking and planning for their kids' future.”

Ailsa Wonnacott is the Executive Director of the ACL. She attributes their high level of grassroots advocacy in the Boulder County area to the high need, as well as the limited available property than other areas of Colorado. Due to increased competition and high home prices and rents, many people with I/DD are priced out of housing options. She believes local leaders have realized there is a problem, but the development timeline is years behind the current need.

Alisa says, “But long shots energize advocates more and we are making change locally with incredible leadership in both Boulder and Broomfield County who have listened to the voices of people with I/DD, their families and advocates. The progress we have made is now driving interest – ours and other community members.”

The Affordable Housing industry has many powerful, well-established players, including elements of federal, state and local government, large financial institutions and real estate developers. The U.S. Treasury allocates nearly $9 billion in budget authority for state agencies to allocate what will eventually become the equity that makes affordable multi-family housing properties “pencil”; an industry colloquialism for making it function financially. And multi-family affordable housing is of course on one type of housing on the continuum of options.

Additionally, the service provision sector is well-established in Colorado. By connecting the local level efforts of parents, loved ones, and the I/DD community with these housing and services professionals, we can provide more inclusive housing in Colorado.

To be sure, there is no lack of energy at the grassroots level. We must coordinate these grassroots efforts to create a statewide effort towards increased inclusive and affordable housing opportunities for Colorado’s I/DD population.

Interested in getting involved? Join the Inclusive Housing Coalition Committee to help address the housing barriers and systemic issues facing adults with I/DD. Learn more.


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