If you build it, they will come.
Gene Crayton, president of Gateway Paralyzed Veterans of America (GPVA), knew his chapter would get involved in another building project some day. Members received community recognition for their first accessible apartment complex (Gateway Accessible Housing [GAH], later known as Gateway I) in 1992. Concerned about future federal budget reductions, Crayton convinced the chapter's board of directors to give him the green light for Gateway II in spring 1994.
The dream of providing accessible, low-cost housing has been Crayton's priority since the late 1970s. After working with the Vietnam Veterans Leadership Program and exploring financing sources, he joined GPVA when he realized this organization could help with his mission.
Crayton became an active member of GPVA, and the housing idea became a regular part of the chapter's discussions in the early 1980s. After many setbacks, GAH became a reality, and PVA officers participated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony at a 40-unit complex in July 1992. The complex's northern St. Louis neighborhood offers shopping, banking, restaurants, hospitals, fire protection, and a nearby park. GAH soon had a three-year waiting list for residency.
During the next two years, St. Louis did not add to its inventory of accessible apartments for people with disabilities. Crayton saw the need to build more units in a different part of the city. This idea would depend on available property, cost, and zoning requirements. GPVA's board of directors discussed renovating existing apartment buildings for accessibility, but the parameters of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD's) financing program made it more advantageous to build new units.
Having been through this process before, Crayton knew the next thing to do was contact a housing consultant, Elmer Smith, of E. E. Smith, Inc. Like many consultants affiliated with HUD projects, Smith had once worked in an upper-management position in the department's Washington, D.C., office. He advised Crayton to form a single-asset, not-for-profit corporation and deposit the required $10,000 into the corporation's account; then Smith would start looking for potential sites.
GPVA asked the National Benevolent Association (NBA), its partner for the first apartment project, to cosponsor the new venture. NBA is the Social and Health Services Division of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Ranked among the top 50 not-for-profit organizations in the country by Money Magazine, this St. Louis-based association is dedicated to the care of older adults, abused and neglected children, and individuals with physical and developmental disabilities. NBA would also manage the finished units, since it had many years of successful sponsorship in government-funded apartments throughout the country.
The chapter selected a site and signed an option to purchase. GPVA delivered the application for the grant, under Section 811 of the National Affordable Housing Act, to the St. Louis HUD office. Smith also recommended an architect, Ron Grojean, who had experience designing multifamily projects.
In November 1994, Crayton convened the first GPVA board meeting to discuss this project. Some members had served on Gateway I; others were from the St. Louis Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center's spinal-cord unit at Jefferson Barracks. They elected officers and discussed the time frame for starting and completing the project. In June 1995, they learned that HUD had approved their application to build 18 single-bedroom apartments at a cost of $1,082,100.
Grojean developed final blueprints that the GAH board reviewed and submitted to HUD for approval. Negotiating the purchase of the property, testing the soil, and obtaining building permits were some of the details Smith handled.
GPVA selected the general contracting company that built Gateway I, the Altman-Charter Company. Project sponsors and their attorney, architect, and builder sat down with HUD's attorney, architect, and managers to review and sign documents at the initial-closing process on June 27, 1995. The chapter chose July 22, 1995, as the date for the groundbreaking ceremony. PVA Senior Vice President Ken Huber and Vice President Joe Fox flew to St. Louis to attend the event.
For the next ten months during the construction process, board members selected carpet colors, kitchen cabinets, and entry doors. On April 13, 1996, at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, then Vice President Huber spoke of how proud he was of GPVA's many accomplishments.
Word traveled fast about the new apartments that soon would be available for residents with mobility impairments. The chapter accepted applications, which had been circulated to many organizations and printed in newspapers. Applicants had to have a mobility impairment and qualify for low-income housing.
After careful screening, the chapter selected 18 residents, who moved in during May and June 1996. Three buildings contain six apartments each. The onebedroom, 540-square-foot units have full kitchens, baths with roll-in showers, closets, and storage space. The community building contains the manager's office, rest rooms, and laundry room. A large meeting room has a television, VCR, full-kitchen facilities, and tables for playing games, cards, or reading.
Many Gateway I residents benefited from the construction of the second project. HUD Section 202 requires residents to have live-in attendants. Occasionally, this regulation presented a problem when caregivers for Gateway I residents would quit their jobs. Managers had to insist that occupants find replacements soon or face eviction. HUD policies prohibit one person from living in a two-bedroom unit--this underutilizes a federally funded program.
Once Gateway II was completed, if Gateway I residents chose not to replace their attendants, management could put these occupants' names on a waiting list for the new complex. This would allow them to stay in their apartments for many months, solve the eviction problem for managers, and satisfy HUD requirements.
GPVA members have mixed feelings about providing apartment complexes for residents with disabilities. In an ideal world, government-funded, affordable, accessible housing would be scattered throughout the community. The fact remains that congressional funding programs furnish few options. St. Louis, like most major cities, has an alarming shortage of accessible, affordable housing. GPVA is trying to help with this problem.
One of Gateway II's first residents was Minnie Danzie. After a stroke kept her in a hospital for more than two months, she went to a nursing home. Because she could not walk, her new lifestyle required a wheelchair for mobility. She couldn't go back to her previous apartment because it had six steps to the front door. Danzie's daughter helped her mother apply for housing at Gateway II. Danzie moved out of the nursing home in June 1996. She says, "Thank God, PVA, and NBA for providing me this beautiful place to live."
This summer GPVA will break ground for Gateway III, which will consist of 22 one-and two-bedroom apartments located two miles from the St. Louis VAMC, Jefferson Barracks.
RELATED ARTICLE: LIVING IN PARADISE
Gateway II is a project sponsored by the National Benevolent Association and the Gateway Chapter of Paralyzed Veterans of America. Completed in April 1996, the accessible, low-income housing complex for people with disabilities did not have any problems finding tenants. Once word got out about the new apartments, residents with mobility impairments lined up to qualify for the HUD-financed housing.
What do Gateway II residents have to say about their living quarters?
* William Saffold: "I have used a wheelchair for 12 years. My last apartment was not accessible inside or outside. Living in an accessible environment allows me to be much more independent. This is like paradise compared to the last place I lived."
* Robert Carter: "I was living in an old home with my grandparents. I hey said these [apartments] were accessible. That's exactly what this place is--accessible. This is a great place to live. The [waiting] list will always be long because nobody who lives here plans on leaving."
* Royce Woodcox: "The Gateway II development is nice and quiet. It has more privacy than my last residence, which was a large multistory building. The interior design of the apartments is good. I his works great for one person."
About the Author: Rich Daley is government relations director of Gateway PVA. He also serves as an elected officer on the boards of Gateway I, II, and III.
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|Title Annotation:||accessible apartments in St. Louis|
|Publication:||PN - Paraplegia News|
|Date:||Mar 1, 1997|
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