Finding Permanent Housing in Communities Instead of Institutions

By Erin Delmore

A new resource for individuals living with a disability — the Supportive Housing Association’s first-in-the-state guide to finding affordable, permanent housing in community settings.

“The guide lists, literally, all of the housing options that are available in New Jersey  and gives families and individuals with disabilities some instruction, some planning some strategies as to how to get into the particular type of housing that they’re interested in,” said New Jersey Council on Developmental Disabilities Executive Director Kevin Casey.

The SHA’s guide is the product of a movement toward community-based housing as an alternative to institutionalized care. The guide highlights ways to find — and fund — small- or medium-sized group homes or individual apartments and supportive services like transportation or job training. For Aaliya D’Sylva, that support is a lifeline.

“She uses diapers at 34 years of age and does not walk. She is unable to prepare meals, she’s unable to eat, she’s unable to drink, she’s unable to bathe without assistance,” said Lorraine D’Sylva-Lee, Aaliya’s mother.

Aaliya has a severe developmental disability and a seizure disorder. Today, she’s with Carolyn, a direct support worker. Together they volunteer at Catholic Charities and Habitat for Humanity’s thrift stores and they stuff packets at Warren County domestic abuse center.

“Aaliya has lived her entire life in the community. She thrives in a public environment. She would not live long in an institution,” Lorraine said.

Around 1,500 New Jerseyans live in large, segregated institutions. That’s more than in any state except Texas or California. The New Jersey Council on Developmental Disabilities says another 13,000 are waiting for services.

“We don’t have enough affordable housing in New Jersey to meet the need, particularly for people of very low income. While there are resources out there both on the bricks and mortar side and on the supportive services side, they don’t exist in sufficient numbers,” said Supportive Housing Association of New Jersey Executive Director Gail Levinson.

While the SHA’s guide is geared toward residents with disabilities — including autism and Down syndrome — the strategies for finding affordable, permanent community-based housing reach further. The organization says it could benefit residents on low incomes, senior citizens, people with physical impairments and those who suffer from mental illness and addition.