Nonprofit aims to provide affordable housing for disabled

Friday, November 7, 2008 | 2:36 p.m. CST; updated 8:07 p.m. CST, Saturday, November 8, 2008

COLUMBIA — Homer Page was ready to retire.

Over the span of 30 years of living in Boulder, Colo., Page had served on the City Council, been county commissioner and helped to start Thistle, a private, nonprofit affordable housing group. Four years ago, with retirement in mind, he moved to Columbia. Instead of retiring, he resumed a cause to which he has devoted much of his life: helping the disabled population.

After two years of living in Columbia, Page wanted to become involved with the community, so he joined the Columbia Disabilities Commission. Eventually, he was elected chairman.

Now, he's heading a plan to expand affordable housing for those with disabilities and special needs in Columbia.

Community Housing Options, a private nonprofit, was formed after the Columbia Vision Commission made a recommendation in March 2008. Community Housing Options was designed specifically to provide housing for the special needs population. Given his background in the area, Page was elected to run the newly formed group.

“There are issues that need to be addressed, and if they are going to get done, someone has to do them,” Page said. “Given the fact that I have a lot of experience and background, it seems kind of an obligation.”

Aimee Wehmeier,  executive director of Services for Independent Living, another private nonprofit, served on the visioning committee and said the affordable housing available in Columbia is inadequate.

“There’s just not enough acceptable affordable housing to meet the needs of people with disabilities or enough variety,” Wehmeier said.

Community Housing Options cites a first goal of building an eight- to 10-unit apartment complex, with a long-term vision of building 400 additional units over the next decade.

Page said affordable housing is an issue for disabled people because often times they have lower income or are unemployed. The housing units will be made available to those making less than 80 percent of Columbia's median family income, which varies based on family size.

Accessibility is also an issue as many homes and apartment complexes are built with narrow doorways or staircases, making access difficult or impossible for those in wheelchairs. Page himself is blind and said the biggest housing issue for blind people is proximity to public transportation, as they are unable to drive.

The group has requested $20,000 in initial funding from the city and will apply for funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in the spring. Tim Teddy, Columbia's planning and development director, said the group has approached the city about leasing city-owned property at the intersection of Vandiver Drive and Oakland Gravel Road at a nominal rate. Wallace Architects has been hired for the initial project. Page estimated it will be at least two years before anyone can move into the first apartment complex.

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