Coming Home: Communities for Adults with IDD Increase in the Valley

Lisa Van LooMarch 3, 2023
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Residents and community assistants play flag football at Treasure House.; Photo by Hannah Smith
Residents and community assistants play flag football at Treasure House.; Photo by Hannah Smith

Residential communities designed for adults with developmental disabilities are proliferating in the Valley.

As CEO of Treasure House, Lauri Tanner gets to witness the magic that happens when adults with different developmental disabilities live together and find ways to support each other through their own unique challenges.

“What they like best is the independence, and they really like their friends and the close-knit community,” Tanner says of the 29 residents living at Treasure House, designed specifically for adults with autism, brain injuries and other intellectual and developmental disabilities, known collectively as IDD. “It is a family we’ve created here.”

Communities like Treasure House, First Place AZ and Luna Azul are giving adults with IDD new opportunities to live independently in a supportive atmosphere that includes life coaches, employment guidance, medical care, recreation and nutrition services. Each of the communities offer individual living spaces, either as apartments or single-family-style cottages, and supplemental programming that further empowers their growth and independence.

Denise Resnik, co-founder of the Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC) and founder of First Place, has a comprehensive understanding of the need for specialized housing for adults with IDD, in part because her work in the space was inspired by her son’s autism diagnosis. According to First Place AZ’s latest Greater Phoenix Housing Market Analysis, someone with a developmental disability would need to work 66 hours per week at minimum wage to afford a one-bedroom apartment in Phoenix. Yet, according to the Arizona Developmental Disabilities Planning Council, only about a quarter are employed at all. Most of the estimated 159,000 IDD adults in Arizona live with their aging family members, according to a brief prepared by First Place.

“People need a marketplace of options,” Resnik says. “We’re thrilled to be part of that marketplace and thrilled to have Treasure House and others joining in that space.” 

One of the more novel services offered at First Place is an embedded medical clinic serving multiple purposes, allowing for field-informing research to take place, acting as a learning environment for Creighton University medical students and acquainting residents with health-care routines and practices they need to understand to live healthy, independent lives.

“We felt it was really important to begin modeling what the office visit looks like, or should look like, so doctors can be reimbursed for the time required to treat certain individuals,” Resnik says. “Our aim is to develop the model and best practices so we can take that model and our findings to the larger campus of not only Dignity Health and Creighton University, but other health-care institutions.”

Tanner says she knows the work they’re doing at Treasure House is making a difference. She receives several calls each week from leaders in other cities looking to replicate the Treasure House model.

“There’s a huge need for more places like this,” Tanner says, noting that Treasure House is at capacity and is managing a solid waitlist. “I love what we’re doing. It just makes sense. We’re trying to do our best with the situation we know to empower and engage our residents for the world.”

The Vitals: IDD Living By The Numbers

Luna Azul 

Type: Cottage-style residences for purchase
Cost: $400,000-$500,000
Size: 1,100-2,000 square feet
Capacity: Up to 72 residents

First Place AZ

Type: Apartment-style housing for rent
Cost: $4,400-$4,700
Size: 744-1,080 square feet
Capacity: 63 one-, two- and four-bedroom apartments

Treasure House 

Type: Apartment-style housing for rent
Cost: $3,200 per month (includes two daily meals)
Size: 612 square feet plus community space
Capacity: 29 residents