I/DD Topics & Trends with Pam Blanton

Pam Blanton, Creating Housing Solutions for Your Loved One with IDD

What is Partners4Housing and what kind of services do you provide?

Pam: Partners 4 Housing is a social enterprise, we are a  a mission driven for-profit company and we work with families to create housing solutions that meet the needs of their loved ones.We do that by helping families get all the benefits they’re entitled to starting with a residential assessment it’s an online assessment we ask questions about lifestyle preferences, favorite activities support needs. Once the family completes the assessment,we invite them in for a roommate matching pool. We have an online roommate matching pool. We have people in our roommate matching pool from Washington, Arizona, New York, Colorado, Georgia, Connecticut and we’d love to be in California as well. We help families set up shared  living homes once they find their roommates, so shared living as a family driven housing model and we’ve helped families set up 55 shared living homes serving 127 people with disabilities. 

What does the “shared living” model look like and what are the benefits to it?  

Pam: Shared living is really a family driven housing model so families look for compatible roommates for their loved ones and also for compatible partners with whom to work with to create a shared living home.  We’ve done 55 and every single one of them looks different because every house is made up of different people Many of them have a living caregiver at least one sometimes two sometimes they have a couple caregivers also coming in during the day to provide the support. We help families get section 8 housing subsidies and put together great compensation packages so they can recruit and retain good caregivers. Everyone looks a little different.

How does Partners4Housing help families find other families looking to create shared living spaces?

Pam: We have an online roommate matching the pool where families set up profiles for their loved ones and they search through the pool. They can search by geographical area by ZIP Code, gender, care needs, interest and they can narrow it down and start looking at profiles. They can save them to their favorites. They can message the other family directly and then once they get to meet each other and they get to know each other, then we have a separate set of services, called shared living development, where we lead them through the process of setting up a shared living home.

News Magazine: https://partners4housing.com/learn-more/newsletter/

Can you tell us more about the consultation services Partners4Housing offers?

Pam: The first step with us is our residential assessment . It’s an online assessment. Families can go to our website and purchase that assessment and then immediately get a link where they can begin to fill it out. Once they complete and submit it then we schedule a follow up consultation usually an hour and we go through all the benefits they have. We talk a lot about section 8. We talk about housing options and we help them explore their vision for housing. Then we follow up with an email that gives some steps they can take to get all the benefits their loved ones are eligible for while they’re living at home so that when they move out, they’ll have what they need to afford to live independently.

How does Partners4Housing work with the state government of Washington to provide services? Is there any close equivalent to California’s regional center system in Washington?  

Pam: We don’t have Regional centers in Washington, and so the way services are delivered in each state is very different. The way the services are delivered in each state is very different. We recently just received a huge grant from the state of Washington to provide our residential assessments free to more than 6000 families in Washington state so our roommate pool is growing and our team is growing and we’re really excited about that.

What kind of financial assistance is available in Washington for families looking for housing for their loved ones with IDD? 

Pam: Section 8 is a really valuable housing subsidy and we’re actually very fortunate in the Puget Sound area to  have one of the best disability Belcher programs in the nation that started and launched in early 2000. I was on the planning committee in the late 90s when I started that program. Section 8 is a federal housing subsidy and it really helps people afford housing. There’s a lot of accommodation requests that you can make so that a voucher would actually cover the rent for a living caregiver as well, so it really helps families begin to put together these compensation packages. Everybody gets an assessment from the state of Washington every year from the developmental disabilities administration, and they can use those services to help pay for their support that they need in their home.

A major concern for families with housing is affordability and sustainability. What types of funding streams are there to help with this?

Pam: We have a huge housing crisis in Washington. One of the most expensive areas to live is the Seattle area at the seventh most expensive State in the nation .Our housing state housing programs can’t keep up with that. We work with families who rent housing on the private market. They get a section 8 voucher. Sometimes a parent will purchase a home but the families that we’re working with or finding housing on the private market and using section 8 to help subsidize the costs.

What is required to create a shared living home and get it up and running?

Pam: When families find each other and find roommates for the loved ones and they’re ready to set up a shared living home they can come back to us. We have caregiver agreements. We help them write job descriptions and help them begin the process of recruiting caregivers to help with household budgets. We help with the section 8 process. We have parent commitment agreements on all of the steps. Once the caregiver is hired and everybody moves in and we offer a six month facilitated review process where we have three meetings over six months. Then help the home launch in a healthy way and then we’re out and the caregiver is managing the day to day and the parents are providing the oversight. As things change, as they inevitably do, as things evolve over time roommates move on, caregivers move on, families can come back, and we can offer them consulting services to bring on a new roommate or a new caregiver on board. We just coach them through like you said that process. 

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wyr6GPOMEog

How do you find caregivers?

Pam: We help families put together really good compensation packages so they can recruit and retain good people. Part of our grant that we just received from the state of Washington was to develop a caregiver portal for people who are interested in being living caregivers and for families who are looking to hire a living caregiver so we hope to help your lease that process. Hope you have that up in the next year to 18 months

How are the caregiver costs covered? 

Pam: In the state of Washington, we call them community first choice or Medicaid funded personal care hours. I believe you in California call them in-home supportive services. So the state of Washington people get assessed for personal care hours and they can hire caregivers to help them with the things they need help with.Those hours, when you’re sharing a space, you can also share a caregiver and you can get a number of people together. You can have a certain number of hours and a caregiver can work for each individual for those hours. Caregivers also get all housing related costs covered by section 8 and then parents supplement to fill the gap.

What are the solutions for adults with autism and severe behaviors?

Pam: We work with a lot of people with autism.  It can sometimes be difficult to do  shared living with people who have severe behaviors, because typically we are  looking at two or three or four people living together in a house with one or two living caregivers, and sometimes that can be a lot. We have another program offered to our state called Supported Living and a lot of people with extreme needs and supports go for a different model housing.

We have nothing but Section 8 waitlist in the Bay area, how can our adults obtain portable vouchers? 

Pam: If you go to our website and look in our news magazine it was in the Spring issue of this year, we published an article called pro tips to getting section 8. One of the things you can do is go to a website that’s called https://affordablehousingonline.com/. They look at all the housing authorities across the nation that are opening their lists. You can get on as many lists as you want. Typically you have to live in that housing authority’s jurisdiction for one year before you can transfer your voucher to another jurisdiction, but if you’re a person with disabilities, you can request reasonable accommodation to port your voucher Immediately and we’ve helped a number of families do that. If you go to our news magazine on our website https://partners4housing.com/ you can look at that article, we help families do that one on one. I do a lot of consulting on section 8, because I’ve worked with it for more than 20 years because of the program we have here in the Seattle area. We tell you everything in that document on how you can navigate affordable housing online and how to get on the waitlist.

 How can we set up our loved ones for success? When living outside the family home, what would they need?

Dana: The most important thing is to really take the time and do the due diligence. Make sure that it is the right environment and the right fit for your loved one. I think Pam mentioned that sometimes the process takes a while, and I think that that’s one of the reasons, because if you’re going to be living in a shared living environment, you have to be really sure that your loved one is in fact going to be compatible and will thrive in that environment. We’ve heard from many families how helpful our residential assessment is to get them thinking about the future and thinking about the questions they should be thinking about. So you know we help them think about those important benefits and services that help you afford it financially. Thinking about things like transportation and community programs and what you’re doing to help them create a full, meaningful day, because it’s really not just about the house. The house is a foundation right for that life in the community.

How easy or difficult is it to typically find caregivers, and in more particular, is it possible to process immigration for caregivers, such as hiring and opa?

Pam: We have a direct service provider shortage all over the nation, and it is hard to find good caregivers. When you put together a good compensation package, you can attract and retain good people. It’s challenging. I know, at least in the future sound region prior to Covid I would have 5 or 6 households looking for living caregivers for 4 or 5 months, but since Covid, people are really starting to think about life in a different way. Prior to Covid, we had a really low unemployment rate. People now are thinking about different lifestyles and different ways to work. Not everybody wants to drive downtown anymore, to go to an office from 9 to 5. Our families are finding caregivers now with robust compensation packages and they’re doing a pretty good job finding people. However, it’s a challenge nationally and it’s something that we all need to be concerned about.

Have you catered to a situation where both parents have passed away, and there are no close kin?

Pam: A family driven housing model requires support of a family. So in the beginning, when we start working with families, we have them thinking about who’s gonna step into your shoes. Because it does happen, we have had parents who have passed away and a sibling has stepped in. If there’s no siblings, some families are hiring professional guardianship services to act in that role either as a guardian or just as an organization that helps support that person after their parents are no longer able to.

Dana: In the residential care model that Lsa has, it’s not at all uncommon to have someone whose family has passed away, and that they don’t have siblings, or maybe they have a niche that kinda looks in on him, but is in some other state. The family becomes the caregivers and the family of the others.They are in that shared living situation, and when you see that happen, it can be quite a lovely thing. If you think fast forward to those with IDD living long lives. We have a couple of senior homes where people are in their seventies and early eighties. They typically don’t have those families. So it’s a good thing it can be a substitute for that original family.

How do you determine if a family is a good candidate for shared housing?

Dana: Here and in California, with the regional center system an individual will qualify for services and have a service coordinator that would work with the individual and his or her family to do many of the steps that Pam was referring to in terms of making assessments and exploring different options. At some point in the process, the service coordinator will help that family find an opening in a program that would be a good fit with their needs, and that’s the point where we might get a referral for an opening. Once we get a referral that it becomes well, kind of a fast track of Pam’s process. Everybody getting to know one another and exploring the situation to come to a conclusion about whether or not that is, in fact, a really a good fit, and therefore we should move forward. We have a lot of information on our website about and we have an article that asks that question. “Am I a good candidate for a shared living home?” But really, we want families to explore all the housing options that are available and decide for themselves and their family what’s the best fit for them, and we help them think through that as we go through our residential assessment process in the follow-up consultation. It takes time and work to set up a shared living home and it can be a really beautiful situation. It’s not the solution for everybody but it sort of does help a lot of people who have a particular vision of what they want to have.

How long does it really take to create a shared living solution?

Pam: So we tell families that it can take 2 to 5 years to create a shared living home. It takes time to get on lists to get the benefits that you’re entitled to, it takes time to find compatible roommates and compatible parent partners that you want to work with, and it takes time to go through the process of setting up the home. It takes time once it’s set up then things can roll along pretty well. And things are forever evolving too. So I say 3 to 5 years. Start planning early, and you know it’s never too early to start.

Dana: That’s essentially the same advice that I give parents right? 2 to 5 years, and you can never start too soon. The second part of that question was really more geared around opening a new LSA home, and, there’s a bunch of pieces, and I’ll just describe them in rough sequence, and then I’ll kind of circle back on a timeline. The first one is to raise enough money to be able to buy that new home, and the second step is typically to remodel it in such a way that it will meet the needs of the program. Typically, that’s making it accessible, doing whatever is necessary along those lines, as well as making it function. It might not have 5 bedrooms, it might have less. Maybe part of the remodel is to add a bedroom, or put in some new bathrooms are some combination, then the rest of the process really involves getting licensed and vendored, outfitting the house, higher end staff, essentially getting ready to open the open the doors, and that whole process can usually take a couple years. The raising money part is somewhat open-ended because it can go faster or slower.

But the physical part of finding and purchasing the house and remodeling it, doing all those other things tends to be constrained by those processes and we found that it can take as little as 6 months and as much as I guess Pandemic wise a couple of years, because we, our timing was really bad. We were about to open 2 homes in March of 2020, and things changed unexpectedly. So the timeline usually is around a year and a half to 2 years including funding. 

In regards to the regional center, I’m concerned about the terms of adequacy for covering expenses, for the quality, care, and for the housing, and am wondering, how do organizations like LSA cover the difference?

Dana: In a residential care home, all costs are covered, and I should say 100%.There’s certainly things that go beyond that. The individuals’ personal and incidental funds may wanna go out to a fancy restaurant and that may not be covered. But they can have their own funds, and still choose to go to a nice restaurant even though it’s not covered. But for the most part, everything is covered and there’s also not really a mechanism for parents to individually request or pay for additional services. Basically everybody gets the premium plan. We do our best to deliver premium service, and you know it’s up to us to figure out  how to pay our bills and stay in business and deliver that premium service, and of course we hope that individuals will choose to donate but it’s  not a requirement.

This is really a home for individuals who qualify, and it’s not expected that they will pay anything out of pocket, nor will their families. So having said that, how do we receive it? Our money’s well, our monies come from the regional center with rates that are established by the State. A particular level home with 5 residents will get so much in a rate per month, and then families will  receive most of the rate from the regional center. Then we typically get some of the rate from the individual if they’re getting SSI, because we’re essentially providing housing and foods that SSI is designed to cover for them.

So. Yes, they do use their public funds supplemented by the public funds that are made available through the regional center to potentially pay for that place, in one of our homes, and then we work really hard to deliver, as I said, high quality services and run as efficiently as we possibly can.

How do both Lsa and parents for housing help facilitate the process of making sure residents and families are happy with their house, meet matches?

Pam: Families are identifying the roommates in spending time together before they move in together, and then they’re committing to work together. So they spend time getting to know each other. We help the houses set up household rules based on the needs of the people who are living there, and what they want and so all that looks different for each house, and sometimes there’s issues between roommates. No doubt. Having monthly meetings to talk things through, and having some household rules that are fluid that you can add to as you go on, and just giving everybody a voice and having it be heard, can be really helpful.

Dana: I would say that most of the time it works really well. Everybody’s committed to working together. Of course we have house rules, and life’s not perfect. Sometimes it takes a big commitment and a lot of effort on everyone’s part to work through that process, so that everybody ultimately can be happy and live their best possible life. I have seen several cases where it doesn’t work out for an individual, for any number of different reasons, and that always makes me really sad. We work really hard, of course, if it’s not to work with that family to find a better alternative. If you think that you’ve finally found your forever home, and you realize that is really not working, it’s there’s many aspects to that process. But it kind of starts with everybody, you know, really being, you know, committed to making it work.

How can we access your services here in California?

Pam: We have a lot of information on our website, our residential assessment can be helpful to families all across the nation. We want to find a partner who wants to partner with us to bring our services to California. The reason being, part of what we do is help families make sure they have all the benefits they’re eligible for, and we can look at all those Federal benefits; however, Medicaid flows differently into every State. So we’d love to have partners in states that have the knowledge of the programs available in that state funded by Medicaid for services. We’ve worked with families all across the nation, and a lot of them find our residential settings very helpful. We can help them think about section 8, food benefits, and if they have the full social security benefit. We would really love to have a partner in California and we’re just starting to grow. So we hope to find the right partner.

What makes your living attractive to individuals with IDD?

Dana: This is something that I’ve seen many times in our homes, where it’s wonderful. You grow up in your parents home, you’re a special guy and you get all kinds of love and support. But then, when you get out and you get your own place, and you share it with people that you love for your life, then it could be a super experience. I’ve seen individuals who really thrive in that kind of environment. From the family standpoint, it’s like joining forces. Joining forces can make the journey seem more doable, and allow you to maybe come up with a living situation for your loved one. That wouldn’t be possible on your own, but it’s the social interaction, and not just with the people you live with, but also your caregivers and families of your roommates that can really make it a special sort of living experience.

Pam: There’s certain options that are available through the State. Not everybody fits into that, therefore families who wanna take the lead to create something of their own, shared living is a way to make it more affordable and reduces loneliness and isolation when people are living with their friends that they share interest with. I think you did a great job answering that Dana and I think it’s the same.

What is the best advice you can give when creating a shared living space?

Pam: I would say, start early, which we’ve said before, find compatible roommates, and find families who share vision and values with you. Take your time and step through the process, and enjoy the journey, because it’s ever evolving. Life changes and things evolve over time. Sometimes families come, and they say we just want to find that place and set them up and be done, but life doesn’t really like work like that for any of us. So just enjoy the journey, and take your time, and start early.

Dana: In the LSA context, if we had an opening in a home and there were 4 existing individuals living there, it would be important to take the time for your loved one to meet those roommates and get to know them before deciding that this is a right fit and same with their families. I think the more you know, the more informed that decision is going to be.

Watch Pam’s recording below. Explore our youtube channel for more information on LSA and other resources.