A nonprofit’s new Kennewick development aims to offer more housing options for developmentally disabled adults in the Tri-City area.
The 1.7-acre dirt and asphalt lot with a community garden in the corner is the future home of Carmina’s Place, a cluster of five community group homes for adults living with disabilities that Modern Living Services plans to build over the next several years.
It’s a couple of blocks away from Kamiakin High School at 526 N. Edison St.
The nonprofit has been working to provide independent homes for adults living with disabilities in the community for almost a decade.
Carmina’s Place is named after the daughter of one of Modern Living Services’ founders, Elena Brown. The Browns were deeply involved and transformational in forming the nonprofit, and their daughter, Carmina, had a developmental disability.
In December 2015, Doug Brown killed himself and his wife and daughter in a murder-suicide. Their deaths shook the community, but, through this new project, their influence lives on through the nonprofit.
The Browns had bought the Edison Street property and intended to build an adult family home there. The Brown family’s heirs have donated the property to Modern Living Services to continue that legacy.
Housing for adults with disabilities is hard to come by in the Tri-City area, according to the nonprofit.
Modern Living Services opened Kennewick Perry Suites in 2014 with a federal Housing and Urban Development program to help pay for it. That HUD program no longer exists, forcing the nonprofit’s leaders to look elsewhere for financing Carmina’s Place.
Perry Suites has 14 independent living apartments in its community, with a garden and grounds area for residents to walk around.
Carmina’s Place will have outdoor spaces, too. Each adult family home will have a live-in caregiver. Residents will have their own bedrooms but will share communal living spaces. The home and caregiver will be licensed through the state Department of Social and Health Services.
“The need is enormous and the supply is not there. There are literally hundreds of candidates in this area who would be looking for a place that have no option,” said Ray Geimer, board president at Modern Living Services.
DSHS reports 757 adults registered with the Developmental Disabilities Administration, or DDA, in Benton County and 287 adults registered in Franklin County. Despite having more than 1,000 registered adults in the area, there are only three community residential offerings in the two counties.
Andrea Mallonee, vice president of the Modern Living Services Board, was one of the original founders of the nonprofit with Elena Brown and a few others. Mallonee said in the beginning it was about networking with other groups assisting adults with disabilities with housing.
“Modern Living Services today is not where we started, and it’s exciting to see,” she said. “I’m excited that (Ray) has taken the torch. It’s awesome.”
So far, Carmina’s Place has been built with predominantly pro bono work. Local firms, MMEC Architecture and Knutzen Engineering, drew up the plans and permit applications for the first six-room group home.
“This just looked like a really good cause to go after,” said Flavien Sawadogo, an architect at MMEC. “You don’t decide to be born with a developmental disability, it just happens. And we live in this community… it’s our home. It’s the people we run into every day, so just wanted to be able to get engaged and to give back was the right thing to do.”
After a year of the permitting process with the city of Kennewick, construction is almost set to begin on the 4,300-square-foot home.
The city cleared the engineering and design plans, but the construction permit is pending and will be approved once a general contractor comes on board. Geimer said he hopes to find a general contractor willing to help with some of the construction, ideally pro bono, too.
“The more we can spread the money, the more we can get done with what we have,” Geimer said.
So far, Modern Living Services has raised about half of the necessary amount to build the project but the total cost to complete it is $450,000.
The plan, Geimer said, is to finance the home completely so residents are only paying $400 to $500 a month for rent.
This rate is significantly lower than other group home rates, he said. Adults with Social Security or disability income will be able to pay rent and still have some leftover.
“What we’re going to do is raise all of the capital, so there will be no financing costs,” Geimer said. “By doing that, that’s what will allow us to keep the rents down in an affordable range.”
After the first home is built, Modern Living Services plans to build more group homes on the Brown family’s land. The property, according to design plans, could hold five homes. Each home will have to be licensed through DSHS, and Modern Living Services leaders have yet to decide whether the caregiver will be a contracted worker or an employee of Modern Living Services.
Currently, all Modern Living Services staff are volunteer, and most of them have their own day jobs.
For Mallonee and Geimer, the work is deeply personal. Both have children with disabilities.
Geimer points out that while the shift to community-based care for adults with developmental disabilities is important, government funding for such projects has dwindled.
“The options for state and federal-funded facilities are getting lesser and lesser all the time, and it’s becoming more and more the mission of nonprofits to try to bridge that gap,” he said.
Without independent housing, adults with developmental disabilities are living at home, often with aging parents. Or if they are lucky enough to find housing, it might not be close to their family.
Mallonee said her daughter lives in Grandview, the closest housing they could find for her. She is on a lengthy wait list for disability housing in the area. Mallonee and Geimer estimate that list has more than 100 people on it.
Modern Living Services is one of a handful of organizations in the Tri-City area working together to serve the DDA adult community, but as the region’s population grows, the need for housing for disabled adults also increases.
Or as Mallonee puts it: “It’s hard enough to get housing for an average person. Try getting something that’s special and unique for somebody with disabilities that needs extra services added to it and (to be) affordable.”
For more information, call 509-491-1338 or visit modernlivingservices.org.
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