From Norman’s Desk – January 2020

Norman A. Smith, Associate Executive Director

The new year brings another president campaign and election into greater focus.  People with disabilities are expected to have major impact on this   election, and many campaigns retargeting people with disabilities to gain our votes.

As reported on by Eric Ascher for RespectAbility.org, seven presidential  campaigns made history together last November in Iowa as they participated in a Democratic Party forum, Accessibility for All, focused on issues affecting people with disabilities. This is the first time this campaign season that a forum was held specifically on this topic.

The forum was moderated by Catherine Crist, the chair of the Iowa Democratic Party Disability Caucus, and by Cindy Hanawalt, MD PhD, Immediate Past President of the Linn County Medical Society.  Hanawalt’s questions focused more on health care while Crist’s questions focused on employment, education and other disability rights issues, reported Ascher.

Six candidates participated in the Forum themselves: Sen. Cory Booker, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Rep. John Delaney, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and businessman Andrew Yang.  Former Sen. Chris Dodd spoke on behalf of Vice President Joe Biden. 

The questions were generated by Iowans with disabilities. There were approximately 100 people in the audience at the Forum, with some audience members coming and going throughout the day, wrote Ascher.

This is another sign that politicians are taking our vote seriously enough to direct time to obtain it.  Time is second to money as a vital resource to any campaign, and six major candidates spent their time to engage directly with people with disabilities on our issues. 

In addition, disability advocates praised last month’s Democratic presidential debate for including a prominent question about how candidates planned to address the needs of people with  disabilities.  Among the three candidates who got a chance to respond, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s comments drew some of the most lavish praise.

Readers have asked me which candidates have better disability policies, and my answer has been and will be: Look for yourself. Evaluate for yourself. Make your vote count for what is important to

you.

People with disabilities need to value their votes by voting for the candidate whom addresses their needs and values the best.

“My Two Cent” – January 2020

Tim Doherty, Executive Director

As I write these words in December, we have just been notified that Project Freedom has won the Low Income Housing Tax Credit award for our new Hamilton project to be known as “Freedom Village in the Woods”.  We still have to obtain a Federal Home Loan Bank Award, which we hope to apply for this coming Spring.  This project will mark our twelfth housing community that Project Freedom has  created.  All our housing is barrier free, making life a bit easier for someone who uses a wheelchair, yet it is also appreciated by someone who is not physically disabled.

Previous special needs housing has been designed for the individual in mind—someone who would live alone.  Group homes were formed that would put three or four individuals together, strangers in reality,     creating a family of sorts, each “family” sharing a single family home.  This model continues today, but     really doesn’t guarantee the independence that many people really want.  Making your own decisions,    and choices, is really what independence is all about.  Our housing, because it is leased based housing, provides a greater ability for the individual to preserve their housing independence by not risking their housing option if they need to change their service provider.

More and More, our housing has evolved into real family housing—not just one bedroom units for single individuals.  Our housing also includes two bedroom and three bedroom units, creating family environments for those who are disabled, and not disabled.  This now creates a new dynamic and greater integration for the person who does have a disability.  Real neighborhoods begin and relationships develop, creating a more natural environment for people to live.   People start to think about their neighbors—maybe even worry about them if they deviate from their normal routine.  They learn their kids’ names and other family members, and often share home baked goods.  That is really what being part of a community is all about.

Over the years, I have seen so many success stories from our disabled tenants.  One such person, who used a wheelchair and lived in a second floor apartment, had to crawl up an outside stairway in order to get into his apartment.  Needless to say, when he moved into one of our barrier free units, it allowed him to access his apartment without that indignity.   I have also seen how our young consumers become more  responsible, maturing by having to make their own decisions, however small they may be at first.  I know in our own family; it is gratifying to see how Jen has become so independent—and more confident in handling her own issues.  This is how we all learn to become responsible individuals—by having the  opportunity to make those decisions and learn from those outcomes.

So, as this new year begins, we look forward to continuing the journey of creating more barrier-free housing that creates an independent environment for everyone.  This year, we hope to open our West Windsor and Gibbsboro developments to new consumers who have the dream of a nice, safe place to live.  One that will allow everyone to become independent.  

Have a Happy New Year.

 

Project Freedom Awarded Funding for New Hamilton Complex

Opening the door to over 1,200 new apartments affordable for families, seniors and residents with special needs, the Murphy Administration announced today it has awarded over $22 million in annual 9% federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC). The highly competitive tax credits are expected to generate $214.7 million in private investment to create 17 developments totaling nearly $325 million to help build a stronger New Jersey.

Among the 2019 awards, administered under the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency’s (NJHMFA), was one for Project Freedom for its Freedom Village at Hamilton Wood located in Hamilton Township, Mercer County.  This is the 12th successful award of LIHTCs for the organization. Once completed by 2022, Freedom Village at Hamilton Wood will be the second Project Freedom complex in Hamilton Township and the seventh in Mercer County

The LIHTC program, which was established by the Tax Reform Act of 1986, is the most prolific source of funding for new affordable rental apartments for residents. Under this administration to date, NJHMFA has financed or awarded tax credits toward the creation or rehabilitation of over 6,400 affordable apartments across the state, and an additional 440 market-rate apartments with a total development cost of $1.45 billion.

 

Groundbreaking Marks Start of New Affordable Apartments, Supportive Housing in Mercer County

ROBBINSVILLE – A groundbreaking last December kicked off the construction of Freedom Village at Robbinsville, which will provide 72 apartments affordable to families as well as supportive housing for special needs residents and was funded in part by the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency (NJHMFA). NJHMFA executive staff attended the ceremony.

The development, built by Project Freedom across from Robbinsville Town Center North, will include four three-story buildings and a community center to provide one- to three-bedroom apartments for families with incomes up to 50% of the area median income.

Project Freedom, a Mercer County-based nonprofit organization, develops and operates barrier-free housing to enable individuals with disabilities to live independently. Ten apartments will provide homes for residents with developmental disabilities, and eight apartments will be for residents with mental health challenges. The apartments will feature wider doorways and hallways, and all will be accessible to individuals who use wheelchairs.

“We are very pleased to once again be working with Project Freedom to create affordable homes for families and for residents with special needs,” said NJHMFA Executive Director Charles A. Richman. “The development of supportive homes that provide for independent living is a key component of NJHMFA’s mission to enable residents with special needs to fully integrate in the community.”

NJHMFA awarded the $20 million development highly competitive 9% Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC), which are expected to generate nearly $13 million in private equity. NJHMFA administers the federal LIHTC program in the state which is a key tool in the creation of affordable housing for working families, seniors and residents with special needs. The project also includes $600,000 from Robbinsville’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund; $500,000 in Mercer County Home funding and $1.7 million from the Federal Home Loan Bank of New York.

Freedom Village at Robbinsville is the tenth project for which NJHMFA has provided Project Freedom financing, resulting in the development of over 500 affordable apartments throughout Mercer, Ocean, Burlington, Camden and Salem counties.

The  new Robbinsville development joins Project Freedom’s original Robbinsville 30-apartment community which opened in 1991. It is close to restaurants, a bank, pharmacy and other retailers as well as an NJ Transit bus stop.  

Last December, NJHMFA took part in a groundbreaking ceremony for Freedom Village at Gibbsboro which will provide 72 apartments affordable to families, with 18 for residents with special needs. An October 2018 groundbreaking marked the construction start of Freedom Village at West Windsor which will also provide 72 affordable apartments including 18 for special needs residents. Both developments were financed in part by NJHMFA. The West Windsor community will be completed by February 2020 and the Gibbsboro community by April 2020.

Freedom Village at Robbinsville is expected to open in October 2020.

“America’s Medicaid Trap” for People with Disabilities

An Essay by Anna Landre

A young white woman with chin-length brown hair smiles at the camera. She wears a white shirt and sits in a black motorized wheelchair. Behind her are several blooming cherry blossom trees.
Anna Landre

Most non disabled people I meet seem to assume that the U.S. government provides disabled Americans all the services and supports we need to survive, and even thrive, as equal citizens.

Once, when I was coming home from the grocery store, I lost my grip on my bags and had to ask a passing stranger to pick them up for me. He was happy to help, but remarked, “They should give you a helper for things like this!” I almost laughed. He was right, but I have a hard enough time convincing unsympathetic government bureaucrats that I need to go to the bathroom more than once every 12 hours each day — let alone that I require help with more mundane tasks like grocery shopping. 

I’m twenty years old and a wheelchair user, and I need the services of a personal assistant to do some everyday activities like getting out of bed and getting dressed each day. If I and other disabled Americans are going to succeed in settings like work, home, and school, supports like these are an imperative. Unfortunately, though, they’re often withheld — keeping our success and inclusion far out of reach.

Read More at Disability Visibility Project by Clicking Here

The Truth Of Disability Employment That No One Talks About

By Sarah Kim, Contributor  –  Forbes.com – October 24, 2019

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and it’s about time to discuss the staggering unemployment and sub-minimum pay rates among the disability community.

According to data obtained by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment-population ratio for people with disabilities was 19.1% in 2018, compared to 65.9% for people without disabilities. Although the lower rate among people with disabilities reflects, in part, the age profile of the population — older people are less likely to be employed — across all age groups, people with disabilities were much less likely to be employed than their non-disabled peers.

Out of the small population of people with disabilities who are hired, many receive sub-minimum wages. In recent years, there have been reports of an estimated 420,000 individuals with disabilities who have been paid an average of just $2.15 per hour.

Read More by Clicking Here

Gibbsboro Lottery Set for October

The lottery to establish the initial listing of applications is set to take place on October 9, 2019, beginning at 10:00 AM at the  Gibbsboro Senior Community Center located just behind the building at 250 Haddonfield-Berlin Road, Gibbsboro, NJ 08026.  The lottery is open to the public.

For questions, please  call Dara Johnston at 609-699-6023

September 11th Remembered

Norman A. Smith looking up at camera smiling dress in a green shirt and cap with CERT written on bothThis month marks eighteen years since the attacks of September 11th. It is also National Preparedness Month is recognized each September to promote family and community disaster and emergency planning now and throughout the year. The 2019 theme is Prepared, Not Scared.  The timing is no coincidence.

For many  the memory of that awful September day in 2001 is fading, but my memories are still vivid down to my shirt and tie.  The day started out so bright, beautiful, and refreshing, but it ended so dark and frightening.  The feeling of anger and uncertainty spread around us like a cloaking fog.

Every year since the attacks, I choose to pay tribute to the three elements that create my memory of that day.  First, I honor the life of my friend and colleague Colleen Fraser who died on Flight 93 with those other selfless heroes who may have saved the Capitol or the White House or thousands of other lives.  Colleen was a fighter, and she was in good company that morning fighting to take back that plane.

Second, I remember the lives of the 343 FDNY firefighters who died that day.  Most knew going into those buildings that some of them would not come out alive.  They knew this instinctively by virtue of their experience and profession.  They still went in with police officers and EMS personnel to save those who could not save themselves.  They went in to save people with disabilities.

And, yes, thirdly, I remember those people with disabilities who died that day in those towers.  I was not watching the horror on television that morning.  I had a meeting at 10:00, and during that meeting I spoke of Colleen and wanting to connect her with someone.  Later, someone told me of the collapse.  My very first thought was that many firefighters had just died; my immediate second thought was that many people with disabilities had died as well.

How many people with disabilities died that morning may never be known.  We do know that the corporations and government agencies housed in those towers hired people with disabilities.  We do know that some people with disabilities made it out because they had a plan, their company had a plan, or some colleague or friend took the initiative to get them out.   We do know that others stayed behind not wanting to burden friends, not wanting to get in the way, or just having unwavering faith that the FDNY would get to them.  We also know that loyal friends stayed behind with them.  We know that some people with disabilities who stayed were rescued but many died with their rescuers.

Every victim of these attacks needs to be remembered and honored.  I feel a personal duty to honor Colleen, The 343, and those almost nameless people with disabilities who stayed behind.

Let us all remember the victims and the heroes of September 11,, 2001, by getting prepared and staying prepared.  You never know how a bright, beautiful, and refreshing day may end. 

 

 

 

We Are In The News!

Developer proposes Hamilton affordable housing complex for special needs individuals

HAMILTON — Nearly seven acres of trees will be removed and a special needs housing complex will be built off Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. Way if the Hamilton Township Planning Board approves a developer’s pending application.

Project Freedom Inc. is scheduled to present its affordable housing plan at Thursday’s planning board meeting.

Read More by Clicking Here