VIRGINIA BEACH, Virginia – In the past few months, a city-sponsored housing project for people with disabilities has been heavily criticized for defaulting on an interest-free loan and not getting up and running quickly enough.
But another movement to kill the housing project called Vanguard Landing is simmering beneath the surface.
Disability lawyers have encouraged city officials to cut ties with the project. They say creating an isolated shared apartment in rural Virginia Beach for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities only is not the best course of action or the type of housing that people with disabilities want.
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Tonya Milling, advocacy executive director of The Arc of Virginia, said it was not okay to house people with disabilities together and that national standards had evolved over the past few decades.
She also pointed to a 1999 US Supreme Court ruling that the exclusion of people with disabilities was discriminatory and contrary to the Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as a 2012 Justice Department settlement that ordered the state of Virginia to four to close its five facilities for people with disabilities.
In order for organizations to be eligible for Medicaid reimbursements, Milling said the government had established rules that people with disabilities should receive services in their own homes or in integrated facilities – rather than in institutions or other isolated facilities.
“Our concern is that any time a service or program isolates people, it is not inclusive,” Milling said. “The services should be provided to someone as well as someone without a disability.”
Vanguard Landing, to be built on 75 acres near Princess Anne and Sandbridge Streets, would be a $ 40 million shared apartment for 185 people – 18 and older – with intellectual disabilities.
The city council approved a $ 2.9 million interest-free loan for the project, and the Virginia Beach Development Authority disbursed the money to the organization in 2014.
However, earlier this year the auditor found that no progress had been made and Vanguard Landing defaulted on the loan due to a breach of key deadlines set in the loan agreement. The development agency will decide on June 15 whether to give the group more time to develop or to ask for the loan to be repaid.
Debra Dear, executive director of the nonprofit that is developing the shared apartment – also known as Vanguard Landing – didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Had Councilor Michael Berlucchi been a member in 2014, he would have raised questions about the concept itself, as the deportation of people in rural areas violates best practices and recommendations of the state and federal government.
“Look around the country – are communities like Vanguard Landing being built?” Said Berlucchi. “No, they will be closed.”
Berlucchi also asked why the council supported the provision of an interest-free loan to Vanguard Landing without a competitive process.
“Imagine what we could have done if we shared these resources with an organization that has been created and is ready to help people with disabilities,” said Berlucchi.
Lynne Seagle, the executive director of the Hope House Foundation, said her organization had closed all 14 residential groups for people with developmental and intellectual disabilities by 1994.
She said the process began in 1984 when the organization asked residents about their hopes and dreams. The residents wanted what many want: a home of their own, a job, friends and romance. Now the organization provides services to 130 customers who mostly live in their own homes without roommates, Seagle said.
Today she advocates meeting people where they want to live instead of accommodating people with disabilities in large institutions or residential groups.
“People we support are much happier, have more friendships, have far fewer problems with unemployment, and have more connections and places to belong,” said Seagle.
A few years ago, Virginia Beach-based Ivy Kennedy and a friend started a Facebook page to oppose the Vanguard Landing project. Kennedy, 42, has cerebral palsy and lives with her husband. A nurse supports them in this.
She said she enjoyed interacting with people from all walks of life and felt more secure when more people see her live on a daily basis. She doesn’t want to see the institutions return.
“History has shown us that segregation is not created equal,” said Kennedy. “Since Vanguard Landing is secluded and people won’t watch it, it seems like a breeding ground for abuse.”
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