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Abling the disabled: Construction begins on new affordable housing units for people with disabilities

Press Photo by Nadya Faulx ABLE Inc. executive director Mary Anderson speaks with architect John Biggs at Friday’s groundbreaking ceremony for a new housing complex that will offer nine affordable units for people with disabilities.

Ground broke Friday on a housing complex in northwest Dickinson that will provide affordable living options for clients of ABLE Inc., a non-profit that supports individuals with disabilities.

The 30-unit building will offer nine units specifically for people with intellectual and physical disabilities, including one wheelchair accessible apartment, as well as market-rate apartments for the general public.

Affordable housing “has become a statewide issue,” said Jolene Kline, executive director of the North Dakota Housing Finance Agency.

The lack of housing is especially acute for “persons on fixed incomes: senior citizens, persons with disabilities,” she said.

“They’re the people that simply can’t deal with that doubling, tripling and quadrupling of rent,” Kline added.

The social security checks that may have supported them pre-boom can’t keep up with rising costs, Kline said.

“Those are the people that we really need to figure out a way to help.”

ABLE Inc. and Sullivan Properties, who will manage the complex, received funding through the NDHFA’s Housing Incentive Fund, a state government program started in 2011 to create affordable housing throughout North Dakota.

State legislators authorized a total of $35.4 million for the 2013-2015 HIF program, all of which was awarded to various housing projects within months of the legislation passing. The NDHFA committed $1.4 million to ABLE to fund the new complex; the other $3 million is being financed by American Bank Center and Sullivan Construction.

ABLE collaborated with architecture firm Lightowler Johnson Associates to design what executive director Mary Anderson calls “caretaker units” planned around the needs of its future tenants and their caretakers and featuring specialized garages, bathrooms and kitchens.

“We always want to be thinking about what works best for people,” Anderson said.

ABLE works with approximately 100 clients in southwest North Dakota, 70 of whom live in Dickinson. The new apartments will join an existing Arc of Dickinson complex that provides subsidized housing to people with disabilities.

Angela Ott, a client at ABLE who attended Friday’s indoor “groundbreaking” ceremony at Peace Lutheran Church, will be one of the residents when the complex opens in early 2015.

Janelle Stoneking, a case manager at ABLE who has worked with the organization for 16 years, said the groundbreaking was cause for celebration.

“We are seeing today as a day when it is a first step to having a place of your own, a home of your own,” Stoneking said.