CHAPEL HILL — Community members broke ground last week on Orange County’s first independent-living apartments for persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Robin Baker, executive director of the Arc of Orange County, and former board member Pat Conway were brainstorming in 2008 when Baker proposed building apartments for people who could live on their own.
Roger Perry, president of East West Partners Management Co., donated a vacant lot near the shopping center in the Meadowmont community off N.C. 54 to the Arc of Orange County.
Perry built Meadowmont and will live a block away from the apartments.
“I think the more of all constituencies and kinds of diverse folks that you can put in a neighborhood and community, it enhances the quality of life, for everybody,” Perry said. “This is a whole new group of folks who will be part of Meadowmont and make it a better place because they’re here.”
In Orange County, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities typically live in group homes or with their parents. The Arc of Orange County wanted to provide another option.
“Persons with intellectual disabilities, their needs and preferences are just like ours,” Baker said. “They want to have independence and have a job. Being able to have your own place you can lease or rent is really important to them.”
The six-unit apartment complex will be able to house nine people. It will be surrounded by million dollar homes, but rent at these apartments will remain affordable: just 30 percent of that person’s income, Conway said.
Some Meadowmont residents were initially apprehensive about the apartments being built in their neighborhood. Some worried property values would go down. Some worried about safety.
But after educating them about people with intellectual disabilities, eventually almost all of them came around, said Ellen Perry, a disability advocate who has cerebral palsy.
“It means a little bit of freedom from our parents and a safe place to live in the community,” Perry said.
Among those at Wednesday’s groundbreaking was Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt. He said he had an uncle, born in 1939, with an intellectual disability who never had an opportunity like the new apartments will provide.
“We can’t afford to overlook human assets,” Kleinschmidt told the crowd of more than 50. “Providing opportunities like this for independent living makes the town of Chapel Hill a better place.”
The project is expected to be finished in May 2014 and will cost more than $1 million.
The primary financing for the apartments comes from the Orange County HOME program and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. HUD’s support comes with the requirement that the housing be available for people with disabilities, and remain affordable, for a minimum of 40 years.
The Arc of NC will help build and run the apartments.
Alexander: 919-932-2008 Twitter: jonmalexander1