An artist’s rendering shows plans for The Villages at Noah’s Landing, a gated community specifically designed for people with developmental disabilities. (Facebook)
LAKELAND, Fla. — Much of the money has been secured — nearly $14 million to date. The blueprints are being readied. A builder has been hired.
“It’s been a long road; God has called me to do this,” Jack Kosik said recently at the 56-acre site that soon will be developed into a gated community for people with developmental disabilities.
To be built on property acquired from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the new development known as The Villages at Noah’s Landing shares with a similar project soon to break ground in Jacksonville the distinction of being the first communities of their type in Florida.
A ceremonial groundbreaking event in February kicked off Phase 1 of construction on 16 acres that includes 132 apartments and a recreation center with pool and commercial kitchen.
Financed primarily with low-income housing tax credits, the project is expected to alleviate a waiting list for safe, affordable housing for adults with developmental disabilities such as autism, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy. Unlike state licensed group homes, Noah’s Landing will operate independently, with oversight provided by staff, volunteers and parents, along with monitoring from state social workers.
It’s a concept gaining acceptance nationwide, providing a stimulating community setting for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities who are capable of living with some degree of independence.
Parents are critical to the success of Noah’s Landing, which will provide support services tailored to individual needs, said Philip Gossen, board president of Noah’s Ark and a single parent to Phil II, 30, who has cerebral palsy.
The concept of the inclusive community, with some oversight provided by parent volunteers, provides a level of trust that most other residential settings can’t provide, Gossen said.
“(My son) will definitely need support and help for the rest of his life, and I know that Noah’s Ark will help provide when I’m not there,” he said. “That gives me peace of mind.”
As an operating partner for restaurant chain Ruby Tuesday, Gossen spends much of his time on the road. He said it took much convincing three years ago for him to agree to place his son, who is somewhat self-sufficient and could be left alone for hours at a time, at Noah’s Nest, a cluster of three group homes on South McKay Avenue.
His fears soon dissipated.
“I was a great provider for my son. It wasn’t that he was unhappy, but we were stagnant,” Gossen said. “(At Noah’s Nest) he got more social and independent. He just has a greater purpose in life when he wakes up every day.”
When Noah’s Landing opens its doors about this time next year, Phil Gossen II will be one of its initial residents. The complex will be composed of one-, two-, three- and four-bedroom apartments. Additional phases will include more housing, an assisted-living facility, fishing dock and recreational areas. Ultimately, the community could house up to 224 individuals.
Most residents will pay $400 a month for rent and utilities out of their monthly Social Security disability benefits, which vary, depending on a number of factors. For instance, some people with disabilities qualify for a larger allotment once their parents reach Social Security age or die, said Kosik, parent of a daughter, Brittany, who has a disability.
But despite a government subsidy, many people with intellectual and developmental disabilities must live with parents because of a shortage of affordable housing equipped to handle their needs, he said. Noah’s Landing and a small number of similar communities springing up around the country aim to alleviate the problem, giving aging parents respite from the demands of caring full time for their loved ones.
“The question for (many) parents is, ‘Where is my child going to live when I die?’” Kosik said.
Across the state, a community similar to Noah’s Landing — The Arc Village — is preparing to break ground on the outskirts of downtown Jacksonville. It, too, is benefiting primarily from federal low-income housing tax credits, said Jim Whittaker, president and CEO of The Arc Jacksonville.
The 97-unit project also will rely on The Arc’s ability to raise additional dollars through grants and a capital campaign, the same as the Lakeland project, which must leverage at least $3 million in addition to its $14 million in tax credits.
“There’s a tremendous amount of interest throughout the country in what we’re doing here in Florida,” Whittaker said. “It’s a drop in the bucket as far as the need statewide” for affordable housing of this type.
“Hopefully, places like the village can be replicated.”
Already, as many as 227 parents and guardians have indicated interest in placing loved ones at Noah’s Landing, Kosik said. “We believe we’re starting a tsunami. If we do it right, this will be a national model.” ….’