Complex for disabled in the works
Plans to build South Lake Tahoe’s first and only low-income housing complex for the disabled are taking shape.
The nonprofit Tahoe Area Coordinating Council for the Disabled is seeking a state grant to fund the construction of a $2.5 million apartment complex that would go in near the “Y” along the city’s bus route.
Each of the 19 units proposed in the project would be built within the standards of the American Disabilities Act and be available only to people with either a physical or developmental disability or a diagnosed mental illness.
Patrick Conway, the city’s housing and economic coordinator, said it would be the first of its kind.
“It’s the first housing project strictly for people with disabilities,” he said. “The closest thing we have is the Tahoe Senior Plaza, which is designed for seniors who may or may not have disabilities.”
Like the 45-unit Senior Plaza, the proposed project would be subsidized by the state’s Housing and Urban Development program to assist people living on fixed incomes in paying their rent. Tenants would be selected on a first-come, first-served basis.
“The tenant would have to have a disability and meet the low-income criteria,” Conway said. “Right now low income is about $19,000 per year for a single person. If the rent exceeds 30 percent of their income then the subsidy will kick in.”
Rents are projected at about $350 per month, which would cover operational costs for the project.
The El Dorado County Mental Health department handles about 400 to 500 cases each year in the South Lake Tahoe area. Psychologist and program director Phil Middleton said he believes housing for the disabled is badly needed in this community but worries that misconceptions about the mentally ill might stop the progress.
“There’s a huge stigma about mental illness and, for whatever reason, our society makes people feel ashamed about having a mental illness. People also tend to think that people with mental illnesses are more violent and that’s not true. They’re not any more violent than any other person,” Middleton said. “I know all of this is going to be a factor in how successful this project is.”
He said the majority of the people who seek help from the Mental Health department are living independently and are struggling with money. They need that extra help in making ends meet.
“They’re on some sort of fixed disability income. That’s not a whole lot of money and they really don’t have the ability to have a job,” he said. “I think there’s a critical need for housing for the disabled in this community.”
South Tahoe Redevelopment Agency members agreed.
To initiate the project, the council approved Tuesday to designate $15,000 in redevelopment funds to the project.
Redevelopment Agency Member Judy Brown, who owns the Tahoe Manor Guest Home and provides care to people with disabilities and mental illness, said she believes the project may not be enough.
“The 19 units are a good start but I don’t think this is going to touch the problem in the long run,” she said.
An April 1999 study confirmed Brown’s concerns. Conducted for the Tahoe Area Coordinating Council for the Disabled, the study showed a total of 432 South Shore residents who live on a Supplemental Security Income for some type of disability.
Conway said there may be more.
“My concern about the study is that the response was not that great,” he said. “But I believe the need for this type of housing is somewhere around 50 units.”
Conway said the funding for the proposed project would come from two separate Housing and Urban Development state grants. He expects competition for the money to be heavy but favorable to South Lake Tahoe.
“We should know by January if the grants are approved,” he said. “If everything goes well, construction could start in early to midsummer of 2001.”
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