The inspiration for Linda Bialick’s first — and last — development project was born decades before the first bulldozer arrived on the job site.
Thirty years ago, after her daughter was born with Down syndrome, the stay-at-home mom began to realize that children with developmental disabilities didn’t have the same educational, social and recreational opportunities as other children.
She quickly became an advocate for equal opportunities for children with developmental disabilities, and as her daughter aged, the opportunities for children with developmental disabilities expanded.
But when her daughter became an adult, a new set of worries emerged. Hers was the first generation in which adults with developmental disabilities are likely to outlive their parents, so Bialick started researching ways adult children are able to live independently in a safe and secure way long after their parents are unable to care for them.
The answer, Bialick determined after years of research and planning, is a one-of-a-kind, 45-unit apartment building called Cornerstone Creek in Golden Valley. The nearly $12 million project opened this spring and is already nearly fully occupied. Bialick hopes the project and its innovative design will become a model that can be replicated elsewhere in the nation.
“There’s always that possibility,” she said. “We have been receiving calls from around the country inquiring about our model.”
Bialick’s transformation from mom to one-time housing developer didn’t happen overnight.
A decade ago, Bialick started reading everything she could find about housing. She talked with friends, acquaintances, housing developers, attorneys and a variety of public agencies. She interviewed developers and architects, and studied the history and trends of housing for people with developmental disabilities.
“Basically anyone and everyone who might be able to lend some advice,” she said.
Next, she put together a team starting with a consulting firm that specializes in affordable multifamily development. In 2010 she established a Minnetonka-based nonprofit called Jewish Housing and Programming (J-HAP), which teamed up with a Minneapolis-based nonprofit called Community Housing Development Corporation (CHDC).
The turning point came when the nearly $12 million project was awarded $10.3 million in government funding, including $8.75 million that was awarded by the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency in low income housing tax credits through U.S. Bancorp Community Development Corp.
J-HAP, also launched a private capital campaign that raised $1.5 million to include all the extras that aren’t typical in an affordable housing project, including nine-foot ceilings, floor-to-ceiling windows, a fully equipped state-of-the-art exercise room and tenant lounges.
“This project is a prime example of what can be achieved when government funding meets private philanthropy,” Bialick said.
Though the building looks just like any other market-rate apartment building, the design itself is innovative. Tod Elkins and David Miller of UrbanWorks, a Twin Cities-based architecture firm, designed the building to avoid the kind of isolation that many adults with disabilities experience. The three-story building has two wings with clusters of apartments that have their own communal gathering space, creating several “neighborhoods.”
J-HAP executive director Jeff Sherman said that when residents step out of an elevator they are forced to pass through a variety of community spaces on their way to their apartment to encourage interaction with other residents. There are televisions and tables where residents can play games and set puzzles, and there are outdoor spaces that do the same thing.
J-HAP provides free support services to tenants and their families at Cornerstone Creek, including 24/7 front desk personnel, tenant community engagement and a variety of educational and recreational programming. The building, which houses people with a variety of physical and mental disabilities, promotes autonomy. Residents sign their own lease, they can come and go as they please and are in control of their own finances.
The building doesn’t have any on-site assisted living services, putting residents and their families in charge of hiring and scheduling services based on their needs.
Elizabeth Flannery, CHDC president, said that with CHDC bringing the tax credits, U.S. Bank as the equity partner and a community-based capital campaign managed by J-HAP, the building project is like no other.
“A combination of public and private resources was truly maximized in this project,” she said. “The building goes well beyond providing an affordable apartment with services.”