Barbara Gilley has spent most of her adult life living in places that simply were not that comfortable for her. Gilley, a resident of Alexandria, uses a wheelchair and has had little success finding housing that is fully accessible until recently.
The experience led Gilley, 55, to devote her time to advocating for people with disabilities, particularly housing issues, which resulted in chairing the steering committee for a new housing complex to be built in Herndon that caters to low-income seniors and people with disabilities.
"It's so wonderful to see it go to the ground breaking stage," Gilley said. "We started it four years ago."
The odyssey begins its final stages Sept. 16, when Wesley Housing Development Corp., based in Alexandria, will break ground on Coppermine Place in McNair Farms. The two-phase project, once completed, will include a total of 88 apartment units for seniors and people with severe disabilities of any age.
Gilley believes this will be the first residential complex in Fairfax County that collocates the two populations. Coppermine Place is modeled on a similar facility in Norfolk, she said.
"Fairfax County really listened to the younger people with disabilities in terms of what they want," Gilley said.
"IT IS NOT a nursing home. Residents will have to manage their own care," said Alvin Smuzynski, president and chief operation officer of Wesley, a private, nonprofit company related to the Methodist Church. "This is independent living with some supportive services."
The project is funded in part through a federal grant and loans from the Fairfax County housing trust fund, said Smuzynski.
The complex will feature two two-story structures, a 66-unit building for seniors and a 22-unit building for people with disabilities, both with one- and two-bedroom apartments. There will also be an office, library and computer room. There will be a site manager for the senior housing and a support-services coordinator for the disability housing. Wesley will not provide any support services required by the residents, but will ensure the residents are getting the services they need, which would be paid for through Medicare or private insurance.
The senior residents will pay about $750 to $950 per month in rent. The residents with disabilities, Smuzynski said, will pay rents based on income, roughly 30 percent. The difference will be made up through subsidies.
"There are income ceilings [to qualify to live there]," Smuzynski said. "These are very reasonable rents in this area."
"PEOPLE CHOOSE to live there. It is not a placement. They have separate leases. They pay rent," said Stephen Vander Schaaf, president and chief operating officer of Accessible Space Inc., the Minnesota company helping to design the apartments.
The apartments, he said, will be 100 percent accessible to people with disabilities including roll-in showers, lower counters, wider hallways and more open space.
Based on similar projects his company has worked on, Vander Schaaf expects about one-third of the residents to be in continuing education, one-third in the work force, and one-third still leading active lifestyles. He said there will be no age limit for the disability housing.
"That's what we're seeing now, a lot of integrated living," Vander Schaaf said. "The health needs are similar. Basically they need someone there and someone who cares."
Gilley agreed, saying many people with disabilities tell her they feel isolated in their own homes because there is no one around them with shared experiences.
"People with severe disabilities live with family and friends or are put into institutions and nursing homes," Gilley said. "[At Coppermine] there is a nice community around there. I feel there will be a good mix of different age groups. There's camaraderie."
SMUZYNSKI SAID the senior-housing building will most likely be built first, with construction starting later this year. He expects the units to be open by late 2004, early 2005. The second building should be finished a few months after that, he said. Because demand is so great in Fairfax County for this type of housing, Smuzynski expects there will be a waiting list, saying there is already a list for the disability housing.
Vander Schaaf said they are also exploring ways for the residents to share support care, to help lower the costs to the individuals.
"We've found in other states, its a better way to use the resource and provide 24-hour care," Vander Schaaf said.
The ground breaking is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 16, from noon-1:30 p.m., at the McNair Farms Community Center, 2491 McNair Farms Drive.