Chad Brunot stands in the doorway of his very own home, sweet home. “Today is Day Number 80,” he announces. He moved in last June after surmounting great challenges to arrive there, fortified by his typical optimism and the support of his TCRC Service Coordinator and mentor from SAGE (a TCRC service provider).
Last year, at the age of 37, Chad overcame car accidents and the death of his mother from cancer (with no other family). He then suddenly found himself forced out of his own home by a former family friend who betrayed him and his mother, taking the car, money and the mobile home left to him. An attempt was made to take his trust savings as well. This betrayal was hard on Chad.
Chad’s TCRC Service Coordinator, Soyla Ceja, and Community Mentor from SAGE, Juan Perez, strongly advocated for the former friend to return Chad’s property. With assistance from Adult Protective Services, the District Attorney and other local agencies, they were able to retrieve the mobile home title and the trust, but not the car or other possessions.
“I wanted to stay with my friend in Fillmore, but I couldn’t stay for longer than a week,” Chad remembers. He had to give up his beloved dog Harley a few days after Christmas. Chad spent time “couch surfing” until Soyla found an opening at the Harvard Place Apartments, in Santa Paula. Ten apartments in this complex are set aside for individuals with developmental disabilities, using rental subsidies through the Housing Choice Voucher Program.
Chad now has a furnished place of his own. He bought his new television and furniture, using his own money. “Everyone has really worked like a team,” Juan said. “Sometimes I’d call him off hours, just to make sure he was okay. Otherwise, how could I sleep at night?” Juan has been teaching him independent living skills, helping him with laundry, paying bills and budgeting. Juan considers Chad a member of his extended family, and they often share holidays; both he and Soyla check on Chad regularly.
Chad’s goals include getting his driver’s license. He currently relies on buses and walking to get around. Chad is attending stress management classes weekly, and looking forward to his next opportunity to work in the malls as the Easter Bunny, a gig he’s performed regularly over the years and well loves. Thanks to the strong support he’s found with his friends and advocates at TCRC and SAGE, he’s settled in and smiling. “I’d like to someday have a family of my own,” he says, looking to the future.
Service Coordinator, Soyla Ceja, puts it simply. “Despite all of the challenges with Chad’s case, this is a very happy moment for Chad and a very rewarding one for me. Hard work does pay off. Thank you to Jackson Wheeler, (Manager of Services and Supports, Ventura Adult Team) and to Juan Perez at SAGE for all of the support.”
A Regional Retrospective
Jackson Wheeler, Manager of Services and Supports, shared the history of affordable housing in the TCRC service area. “Affordable housing is a necessary partner in the evolution of people living as independently as possible in the community, with supports such as Supported Living Services as well as the training from Independent Living Services,” he began. “One of the key advocates for affordable housing opportunities in Ventura County was Rodney Fernandez, founder of the Cabrillo Economic Development Corporation (CEDC).” Mr. Fernandez, who passed away in October, 2013, worked hard to establish affordable housing in Ventura County, initially advocating for farm workers to buy their own living quarters. Through years of developing various projects that assisted individuals with low incomes to rent or own, CEDC partnered with TCRC to provide affording housing to individuals with developmental disabilities.
Jackson continued, “From the 1970’s when only 2% of affordable housing was designated for individuals with disabilities to the current continuing challenges of availability of affordable units for families and individuals, progress has been made in determining that people with developmental disabilities can lead fulfilling lives independently in the community.”
“One barrier to an independent community life was access to affordable housing,” he pointed out. “Individuals earning minimum wage couldn’t make rent or purchase a house. A question from developers of housing was ‘Can individuals manage a household, take care of a home, replace a light bulb?’ And the answer was ‘yes!’”
A milestone along the way, in the late 1970s, was support from the Housing Authority of the City of Buenaventura (Ventura), which offered access to a 16-unit apartment building for community living for adults with developmental disabilities to The Arc of Ventura County. At that time, supplemental income was less than $200/month; a large one-bedroom rented for $150/month. TCRC’s message, expressed by Jackson and others, was that disability had no age limits, and younger people with disabilities could maintain their households and should have access to living in the community.
Although The Arc of Ventura County sought an inclusive community with individuals with disabilities lived together with other community members, Jackson thought, “This was a fine start.” The building was divided into 12 apartments and two offices for Arc staff. The building opened in 1982 and is still a residence and called “Training for independent Living (TIL)”.
In 2014, TCRC’s staff, leadership, and partners are identifying housing opportunities for people who receive services. Tri-Counties Community Housing Corporation (TCCHC), TCRC’s non-profit service provider for housing development across the three counties, purchases housing with start-up funding from the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) for moving individuals from the Developmental Centers to the community, as well as through other methods of funding. TCCHC also advocates for and assists in the development of affordable housing for individuals living in the three counties.
The Coalition for Housing Accessibility, Needs, Choices and Equality (CHANCE), is a TCRC service provider with the purpose of finding affordable housing for individuals in Santa Barbara County. Multiple Housing Authorities and other non-profit housing development groups are also part of the infrastructure of housing development efforts for people with developmental disabilities.
Jackson comments on the current situation, “Now the waiting list in Ventura County (for a Section 8 affordable housing voucher) is about six or seven years. We encourage families of individuals with disabilities to apply for subsidized housing when their son or daughter turns eighteen. Many families and individuals say, ‘we’re not ready,’… that’s okay, because the housing isn’t ready either, but in five or ten years, if you decide to make that change, then your name’s already on the list. That’s the strategy.”
“I like the joyful expectation that we are figuring it out. Some of the federal programs try to find the one answer; different communities are getting together and planning for themselves. People continue to try to resolve housing issues, to keep coming up with creative solutions. Of course, fundraising and sources of funding are critical to the process.”
Jackson believes that when people can afford housing, they have a bit more disposable income and can participate more fully in their communities. He says, “That’s really what I think affordable housing is all about, the opportunity for people to participate in community regardless of income.”
Affordable housing has provided people with disabilities the opportunity to participate fully in the American dream of having a place of one’s own. “I don’t think enough can be said about having one’s own home,” summarized Jackson. “I really mean in terms of an apartment; it’s your castle. Not just for people with disabilities but for all people.”