For People with Special Needs, the Housing Dilemma Persists

Jeffrey Hudale, 46, has autism and is looking to live independently from his family for the first time in his life.

A Pittsburgh native, Mr. Hudale has experience moving around, having lived with his mother, grandma and aunt since his parents got divorced when he was 7.

He has a degree in civil and environmental engineering from the University of Pittsburgh and a technician job at BNY Mellon, but struggles with social and independent living skills.

After 16 years living in Penn Hills with his aunt and cousin, his sights are set on a new home at Krause Commons in Squirrel Hill.

New opportunity afloat in Squirrel Hill

Construction on the highly anticipated affordable housing development is nearing completion. Residential applications, to be selected in a first-come, first-served lottery, will be accepted starting Aug. 6. Half of the development’s units will give preference to applicants with intellectual or mental health disabilities, while the remainder will be open to any individuals falling below a $31,920 yearly income threshold, or couples falling below $36,480. Rent breakdowns will be determined by income level.

The six-story building is co-owned by Jewish Residential Services and Action Housing, nonprofits focused on providing housing for people with different needs. In addition to apartment units, the building will house office space for Jewish Residential Services as well as its new Sally and Howard Levin Clubhouse. Action Housing, which is also the developer and manager of the complex, hopes to complete construction in November and have all residents moved in by the end of the year.

It’s located on Murray Avenue at the site of the former Poli restaurant, a Squirrel Hill staple for nearly 85 years where Mr. Hudale’s now-deceased parents had their wedding reception. Poli’s has been vacant since 2005. The site is at “the gateway to Squirrel Hill…a transit-friendly area,” said Lena Andrews, a senior development officer for Action Housing.

As the application opening nears, Mr. Hudale’s excitement and anxiety about living independently grows. “I hope to find some stability and maybe someday get married,” he said, explaining his desire to live near a loving family, meet new people and have a chance to enhance his life and social skills.

Still, he faces stiff competition for a spot at Krause Commons.

Action Housing is expecting about 500 applications for the 33-unit building, said Ms. Andrews, who is managing the complex for the nonprofit.

This gap between need and opportunity is representative of a nationwide problem involving housing for people with special needs.

Special needs housing: challenges and concerns

“The demand far exceeds the supply in the foreseeable future,” said Elliot Frank, 68, of Franklin Park, the president of the Autism Housing Development Corp. “Finding affordable housing is difficult for everybody, but even harder for those who are differently abled.”

Housing is one of the major areas of concern for families touched by special needs, added Heather Sedlacko, the director of programs for people with disabilities at United Way of Southwestern PA. As part of United Way’s 21 and Able initiative — which works to solve the unmet service needs of special needs individuals transitioning into adulthood — Ms. Sedlacko has been listening to the worries of parents with special needs children for years.

In addition to supply, parents are concerned that the locations aren’t convenient and that navigating through housing opportunities and applications can be confusing and complicated, she said.

In 2014, United Way conducted a housing survey that interviewed about 300 people with disabilities in Allegheny County. Eighty-six percent of respondents reported the desire or need to move to a new home, and 57 percent said they needed to live in their current community.

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