Irvine tackles housing for developmentally disabled

Irvine Councilwoman Christina Shea's proposal to investigate and improve the housing situation for developmentally disabled residents drew applause — and unanimous approval — at Tuesday's meeting.

This "vulnerable group" does not receive adequate aid, and this was confirmed at a recent Community Land Trust meeting, Shea said.

"A group of residents did let us know that within Irvine, housing for the developmentally disabled is in short supply," she said. "And that affordable housing designed for those residents to use, in their words, is 'non-existent.'"

Toward this end, she suggested creating a task force, but first city staff must:

•Identify the scope of the current and future housing needs of the city's developmentally disabled population;

•Summarize current housing policies;

•Describe housing services others provide to serve the needs of these residents;

•Provide the council with a list of possible solutions, if inadequacies are found;

•Structure a task force that would convene and provide recommendations to the council for consideration.

Irvine Land Trust Chief Executive Mark Asturias cited the city's Housing Strategy and Implementation Plan from 2006, which recommended housing options for special-needs populations. The loss of redevelopment funding, however, has stalled those goals, he said.

The recently debuted Cypress Village, in northeast Irvine, will devote a certain amount of its 104 units to affordable housing. Each structure there will be outfitted with elevators.

"Many of these homes are going to be affordable to extremely low-income residents in the community, and because of the accessibility design, they should be able to support special-needs populations," he said.

Fran Gustin, a 17-year resident, thanked the council for special-education programs that have benefited her autistic daughter. She estimated that at least 80% of the 1,100 local disabled residents are hard-pressed to find appropriate shelter, forcing them to live with their families.

"We represent a community that cannot advocate for itself," she said. "For those of us with disabled loved ones, we go to sleep every night wondering what will happen to [them] when we are no longer present to take care of them."

Speakers implored the council to look into providing affordable homes — a requirement they deemed "critical." Some, like resident Meena Chockalingam, even came armed with photos of their kids.

Gretchen Cassidy, who has lived in the area for 34 years, said her son graduated from the Irvine school system, holds two part-time jobs and just received his driver's license, for which he spent three years preparing.

"He's lived in Irvine his entire life, he's comfortable here, he contributes to our city, and this is home," she said. "I want him to be able to live here as long as he chooses."

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