Innovative Hartford area residential communities will embrace those with, without disabilities

BY Gregory Seay

Rendering | Contributed
Rendering | Contributed
Rendering of the 39-unit apartment building that Canton nonprofit Favarh and Regan Development plan for Bloomfield, one of two supported housing developments planned for the Farmington Valley.

Favarh apartment technology features

Favarh and Regan Development’s planned supported housing in Bloomfield and Canton will stress resident safety and convenience. Using custom software and other technology provided through a Maryland vendor, the developers say many of the 79 units can be programmed for:

• Two-way video communication directly through the TV in an apartment. The system also will monitor units for open windows, water on the bathroom floor, or missed medications.

• Environmental cuing: At bedtime, interior lights can be activated or dimmed and shades lowered at a preset time. 

• Fall prevention: Bed and floor sensors raise lighting from the bedroom to the bathroom, then darken once the resident is back in bed.

• Safe internet access: Residents will be able to access networked internet service via a single firewall, equipped with utomatic virus and malware protection, and parental controls. 

• Americans With Disabilities Act customization: Those with limited hearing can have a bed shaker linked to an alarm clock to waken them, flashing lights connected to smoke and fire alarms, and/or two-way visual communication on their Smart TV to assist with lip reading and/or sign language. 

Connecticut's approval of $13 million in bonding to establish in the Hartford area a pair of novel, integrated communities where seniors, Millennials and people with intellectual and developmental and other disabilities live side by side could become a national model, advocates and developers say.

Both developments, planned for Bloomfield and Canton, also will bristle with the latest assistive mechanical, electronic monitoring and communications systems, such as self-opening front doors and two-way TV intercoms, to provide a safe, supportive environment for residents, those observers say.

Favarh - The ARC of the Farmington Valley, a Canton nonprofit provider of supportive services to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families, and Northeast housing developer Regan Development of New York are partners in the planned development of the two as-yet unnamed apartment communities. In Canton, 40 apartments are planned; 39 units are set for Bloomfield. Groundbreaking on both is set for May.

When debuted in late 2019, both communities will serve as pilots for the state's latest effort to shelter all of its residents, officials say. Known as Intellectual Disabilities and Autism Spectrum Disorder Housing, or I-DASH, both will provide a community-based residency option, beyond group homes and institutional settings, for qualified residents.

I-DASH is a collaboration between state agencies — among them the Department of Developmental Services (DDS), Department of Housing (DOH) and Connecticut Housing Finance Authority (CHFA) — and nonprofits like Favarh that provide supportive services to people with intellectual disabilities. DOH's goal is ensuring every state resident is sheltered; CHFA provides access to capital to fund Connecticut housing.

In addition, I-DASH could benefit the state, proponents say, by improving delivery of services to qualified residents and lowering costs. This can be done, they say, not by cutting back on staff monitors and visits, but by clustering residents and increasing the use of "smart home" technology for the highest and best level of support.

"We want to integrate people with intellectual disabilities into the community as much as possible,'' said Steve DiLella, director of the individual and family support program unit at DOH.

Favarh and state officials say they are unaware of any similar developments in Connecticut, making the Favarh-Regan projects the first of their kind in this state.

Meantime, seniors and Millennials who choose to call I-DASH communities home will benefit from their location close to transportation nodes and related retail and commercial development. Ultimately, advocates see a greater benefit of having people of all ages, intellectual and socio-economic backgrounds clustered together and supporting each other as neighbors.

"We believe strongly there is a need for supportive housing,'' said Joshua Scalora, a Department of Development Services (DDS) manager and its lead I-DASH coordinator. "We want to use the I-DASH program to show that the integration model is effective for those individuals, their neighbors and the communities."

The $13 million state funding only covers about half the development cost for both apartment communities, officials say. Adding to the tab will be the cost of the electronic communications, monitoring and communications systems, plus the expense of state staffers engaged in monitoring and counseling qualified residents.

Housing evolution

Favarh Executive Director Stephen E. Morris said both apartment communities are an "evolution of housing for people with intellectual disabilities.'' Favarh (pronounced fay-var) was founded in 1958 to help its clients live as independently as possible; Favarh will manage the supports provided in both communities.

Years ago, Connecticut was among the leaders, Morris said, in creating the "group home'' model in which many people with intellectual disabilities were removed from institutional settings and put into neighborhood homes, to be near family or work. Group homes were more community integrated and less costly to the state, relying on nonprofits to support residents' health, safety and active lifestyles.

However, that model had a downside, Morris said.

"In many ways, we've isolated people into their group homes,'' he said. "We do want to integrate people with intellectual disabilities into the community as much as possible.''

Favarh, Morris said, realized an opportunity to boost access to, and options for, independent living in a community while managing Simsbury's Ojakian Commons, which opened in 2015 with 48 apartments housing people with various disabilities.

Favarh teamed with Ojakian's developer, Regan Development, of Ardsley, N.Y., in planning the two Canton and Bloomfield apartments. Ken Regan, co-founder and vice president, said his company has developed supportive housing communities in New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts.

Smart homes

But where Ojakian offers mostly passive features to accommodate the disabled, such as low bathroom and kitchen countertops and stovetops and extra-wide doorways for wheelchairs and electric scooters, the Canton-Bloomfield developments will be hard-wired with loads of active technology for the safety and convenience of residents.

Initially, one-fourth, or 10 units, in each community will be set aside for the intellectually and physically disabled, authorities say. Those units also will be wired to accommodate "smart home" technology. The rest will be leased to seniors, empty-nesters, Millennials and others who will pay rents somewhat lower than market rates, Favarh and Regan officials say.

For instance, unit entry doors will be electrically operated for the ease of wheelchair-bound residents, said Morris and Regan.

"We've worked hard,'' Regan said, ''to bring more features on both the technology side and the accessibility side, so people can live more independently."

With Maryland's Casaplex LLC providing system design and installation, the Favarh-Regan apartments' other digital features will include programmable window shades that raise at sunrise and lower at sunset.

Hard-of-hearing residents also can have room lights set to dim or flash as a bedtime or medication reminder. State and private caregivers/monitors will be able to communicate two-way via residents' smart TVs.

While each apartment will have these monitoring and other conveniences hardwired into them, Morris cautions that none will be activated unless residents want them. Indeed, one of the overriding concerns for many of those eligible to live there is their privacy, he said.

"The apartments are going to be 'smart-tech' ready,'' Morris said. "But we'll customize them based on residents' health and safety needs. We're not going to intrude.''

Favarh says it has all Canton approvals to erect the apartments on a wooded lot at 300-350 Commerce Drive, diagonally across the street from Favarh's 225 Commerce Drive headquarters. A Favarh spokesman said Canton neighbors largely embraced the development during review-approval proceedings.

In Bloomfield, Favarh and Regan have obtained town approvals to build on a reclaimed brownfield patch that was the former Valco Machine Co. site, 470-480 Cottage Grove Road.

Jose Giner, Bloomfield's director of planning and economic development, said after some initial skepticism, town residents ultimately embraced Favarh's and Regan's housing vision for the site, once listed by the town and state as a brownfield.

"They approached it the right way,'' Giner said of early informational meetings Favarh and Regan held with town residents.

CORRECTION: Steve DiLella directs the individual and family support program unit at the state Department of Housing. His agency affiliation was incorrect in an earlier version.