Home First Illinois creates accessible, affordable housing in Chicago

CHICAGO (WLS) -- One of the biggest challenges for many people with disabilities is finding housing that is both accessible and affordable.

A program called Home First Illinois is creating more options.

Many people with disabilities live in nursing homes for years, even though they are capable of living independently. They say an increase in affordable housing - that's also accessible - is less expensive for the taxpayers and offers them a better quality of life.

Lowered counter tops and open space underneath make it easier for Michael Grice to navigate his kitchen.

And with the press of a button, he can unlock and open his apartment door.

"I can get out. I can come in. People don't think about those small things, but things like that make a difference," Grice said.

Accessible features make it possible for Grice to live independently. He had been living in nursing homes for the past 16 years.

"It's been heaven. I'm able to eat what I want. I'm able to go to bed when I want. I can access my community," he said.

The apartment was made accessible through a project called Home First Illinois. It's a subsidiary of the community development company IFF.

"Many of the units that we've developed in the first few phases of the program have been in elevator accessible buildings," said Joe Neri, CEO of IFF. "And then we use those condominiums and then we adapt them to full accessibility in terms of the kitchen, the hallways and the bathrooms."

Harold Goodell and his wife both live with disabilities. They entered a nursing home after being injured in falls at the same time. After recovering, they remained in the nursing home for a year-and-a-half until Home First Illinois provided alternative housing.

"When we got our social security, we were getting $30 a month, both myself and my wife. Everything else was going to the nursing home," Goodell said. "There's no way that you can save up money for first and last month rent, get the utilities turned on and everything else."

Home First Illinois was initially funded through a one-time state grant. Some say they would like to see more of the state funds typically allocated to pay for stays at nursing homes get redirected to programs like this one.

"The biggest win is for persons who don't necessarily belong in institutions and shouldn't be there," Neri said. "We're showing that we can do it cheaper. So when you combine happier persons, happier tenants, happier clients and be able to have lower price tag for the taxpayers, it's really a win-win."

Home First Illinois is currently developing more units in the Logan Square and Humboldt Park neighborhoods. For more information, visit http://www.iff.org/housing.

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