According to the Community Housing Transformation Centre (CHTC), nearly one in five people with developmental disabilities over the age of 15 live in a household with a core housing need, which is almost double the national average.

People with disabilities often have limited rental options due to financial constraints, and face subconscious and conscious discrimination from landlords. The hard truth is that many people with disabilities live in substandard housing.

That’s why National Affordable Housing Corporation (NAHC) has taken steps to address the housing gap for people with intellectual disabilities at its Willowview Heights property in Saskatoon.

The NAHC is working with Inclusion Saskatchewan to provide affordable housing for people with intellectual disabilities and additional overlapping challenges. Key to the NAHC and Inclusion Saskatchewan’s approach is also making sure these individuals not only have the opportunity to live in a community like Willowview Heights, but they are empowered and able to make that decision themselves as well.

The rentals are available far below market rates and extremely affordable for persons with intellectual disabilities, and further supported by the NAHC’s mixed affordable market housing model at Willowview Heights.

In an environment of ever-dwindling government funding, the market units help make it possible for the NAHC to ensure sustainable affordability for those most in need. Mixing affordable and market housing is a good fit within any community — not only does it reduce stigma in many ways, but it’s natural to have diversity within a community. It also encourages great empathy and inclusion for all.

Dallas Tetarenko with Inclusion Saskatchewan says the important part about Willowview Heights is that it’s an inclusive community within the city. He notes that in many cases, people with disabilities are segregated and isolated in institutional environments or inappropriate housing in an area that is not accessible to services and amenities.

“Willowview Heights is quite the opposite,” he said. “Literally everything that individuals need is accessible.”

Located in the Willowgrove neighbourhood, Willowview Heights is close to grocery stores, recreation facilities, minor emergency clinics, dentists, parks, churches, and libraries — all within walking distance.

One of the most important aspects of any housing provided for people with intellectual disabilities is that it’s an intentional community that offers opportunities to naturally develop authentic relationships with diverse members throughout the neighbourhood, Dallas said.

“Affordability is a big part of it, but it isn't enough,” Dallas said. “Ultimately, the philosophy has to be in place, too. … Inclusive, intentional communities offer person-centred options and make sure that individuals are supported holistically and that we recognize every aspect of their life.”

The Real-Life Rental Guide for Empowering Inclusion in Affordable Housing

After moving our first tenants in last October, the tenants, their family members and their support workers, as well as the NAHC team, are all thrilled to be seeing noticeable improvements in physical health, mental well-being, quality of life and general outlook for the future.

One tenant, Aiden, told us he’s been eating healthier and has been mentally healthier since he moved to Willowview Heights.

“I haven't had sleepless nights ever since because pretty much I'm just on my own schedule,” he said. “There's a routine; I don't have to worry about being distracted. I know that I have more time and patience for more people because I'm not really stretched too thin.”

Inspired by this positive experience, we’re excited to be sharing our learnings and experience with other groups in the coming months, thanks to the support of the CHTC.

We’ll be highlighting our learnings, our tenant’s stories and experience, and some best practices for others to raise awareness about the challenges these tenants face. We hope that sharing our experience and practical solutions for helping house persons with intellectual disabilities will break down some of the misconceptions property managers and landlords may have as well so they can work towards housing in a more inclusive manner.

The Real Life Rental Guide for Empowering Inclusion in Affordable Housing will be available as a reference guide this fall.

Read more about the project on the CHTC website.