If you are a Vermonter seeking housing right now, it’s tough. If seeking a place that accommodates mobility impairments, one has to get creative. For one Vermonter, that meant turning to social media: Jill Allen put together the facebook page “Find Jyll A Home In Vermont”, to do just that, but also raise awareness about the lack of affordable accessible housing.
Allen uses a wheelchair because of congenital cerebral palsy and lives on a fixed income. She has dwelt in apartments owned by housing authorities for most of her adult life. “I don’t like the fluctuating rent and constant reassessment of my finances,” she said. Housing authorities will assess her income annually to fix her housing costs at 30% of her income. The Burlingtonion assumed that a home of her own was out of reach, but the thought became much more real when she heard about Wheel Pad earlier this year.
Wheel Pad is a Vermont company that manufactures home attachments and accessory dwelling units, which can rapidly transform any property into a safe and cozy place for people with mobility challenges. “All our units have an universally accessible bedroom and bathroom, and we use the ADA as the absolute minimum standard,” said Joseph Cincotta, Wheel Pad’s inventor and principal architect. “We aim to create a space that offers individuals with mobility issues the maximum amount of autonomy, dignity, and independence as possible.”
Allen, like many Vermonters with disabilities, is low-income, so her borrowing power is low. When she met with RJ Adler, Wheel Pad’s Director of Growth, to learn more about the company’s products, he shared some exciting news: Opportunities Credit Union (OCU) will partner with Wheel Pad to finance loans for the company’s products through The Independence Fund.
“The fund offers to help Vermonters finance many different kinds of accessibility equipment, technology, and even home renovations. We saw financing Wheel Pad products as a natural fit with OCU,” Senior Lending Manager Prabin Pokhrel of the Winooski-based credit union said, “Because Wheel Pad commits to buying back their units when a family is finished with them, and finding a new family to use it, we felt comfortable expanding the fund to cover all of Wheel Pad’s products and their installation.”
The financing is the final piece to the puzzle for Allen and many other Vermonters. “We’ve been on the search for a financing partner in the state for years,” said RJ Adler, Director of Growth at Wheel Pad. “One of the reasons finding the right financing is difficult is that Wheel Pad offers a new kind of product. Depending on how you look at it, it could be a home, a renovation, an RV, a travel trailer, or something else. Lending institutions are used to financing all those things, but not something that potentially falls into each of those buckets.” Adler said. “We were thrilled when Tim suggested opening up The Independence Fund for our products.”
So If Allen got a Wheel Pad, where could she put it? Allen currently shares a housing authority apartment with her sister. Ideally, Allen would like to live in a Wheel Pad anywhere in Vermont, connected to a house, preferably close to her sister. One way Allen could connect a Wheel Pad to a home could be done through finding an Adult Family Care Home (AFCH). AFCH uses Medicaid dollars to place people like Allen, who need a nursing-home level of care, at a non-medical home in the community with care provided by her homesharer instead of in a facility. Allen lived in such a facility for eleven years and hopes never to repeat the experience. “It was short-staffed; I had no privacy, and everything was charted. My mental health deteriorated immediately.” In Allen’s current situation, she recruits, hires, and trains her aides herself, without outside help, “I’ve been managing my own care for over twenty years, and I’m tired,” she sighs. An AFCH match would provide Jill with the long term supports of a steady caregiver, a generous yearly stipend for said caregiver, the ability to join another family unit, ongoing, case management, and respite support. The one thing AFCH currently doesn’t fund, however, is modifications to a home. However, if Allen were to buy a Wheel Pad through financing with Opportunities Credit Union, a Wheel Pad would lessen the cost of renovations for the homesharer, because of the modifications already built into a Wheel Pad.
“I wouldn’t call this a typical search for a home.” Allen said, “But I’m getting creative. I just hope that if I can help forge this path, that it will be easier for the next person who uses a wheelchair. It’s not a sure thing by any means, but it’s a good idea, and good ideas have to start somewhere!”
Do you have a home to which Allen could connect a Wheel Pad? Contact RJ Adler at (802)458-7194 or RJ@wheelpad.com. To learn more about the Independence Fund and what other assistive technology financing in addition to renovations, contact Prabin Pokhrel, OCU’s Senior Lending Manager at PPokhrel@oppsvt.org.