Friends of JCDS celebrates renovation of 14th home in growing collection of affordable, accessible housing

Friends of Johnson County Developmental Supports have recently completed the renovation of its 14th home that offers affordable, wheelchair-accessible housing for Johnson County residents with physical, intellectual and/or developmental disabilities.

Located in Overland Park, the single-story house is now home to four women who are enjoying the mobility of wider hallways and accessible bathrooms as well as an open-concept common area with kitchen, living room and sunroom.

After renovations, the house itself is indistinguishable from the neighboring homes, except for a short concrete ramp leading to the front door. Each room is decorated to the women’s personal tastes and needs, including unique wallpaper they’ve selected as well as tools to help support staff help them in and out of bed.

Friends of JCDS celebrated the 14th house with an open house and tours of the home on Friday.

Janel Bowers, chief development and operations officer for the nonprofit, said they renovate homes to go beyond federal accessibility standards. In other words, they make their homes accessible and roomy enough for both individuals and their support staff.

“This is just really for people that need it most,” Bowers said. “That’s what we do, and we’re going to continue to do that.”

Renee (right) is one of the new residents living in Friends of JCDS’s 14th renovated home.

Since 1990, the nonprofit has been offering barrier-free, safe, affordable housing for hundreds of people served by Johnson County Developmental Supports due to their individual physical and financial limitations, according to a press release. The nonprofit has offered emergency temporary housing for people who have faced abuse and neglect, the nonprofit’s main focus has been helping to service individuals’ housing needs for a lifetime.

Each home is designed to address the physical and social needs of each person, including wheelchair and lift access, appropriate lighting and flooring, accessible roll-in showers and wide doorways to accommodate adaptive equipment, to name a few, according to Friends of JCDS. This allows each resident to age in place. The houses also accommodate the needs of JCDS support staff.

At least 120 people’s housing needs are met by JCDS, with 57 of them living in homes owned by Friends of JCDS.

Bowers said they have found that providing affordable housing for individuals being served by JCDS has reduced their reliance on Section 8 housing and food stamps because their monthly expenses are less — it costs about $325 for each individual to rent in one of the nonprofit’s homes.

“So it ends up being a community service as well because we’re helping people reduce their reliance on those systems,” Bowers said.

Furthermore, Friends of JCDS received grant funding to purchase and renovate its 14th home, which lowered the costs for the nonprofit to further expand its footprint of assistance.

Leaders of the nonprofit said they offer specific housing services “that currently are not provided by any other housing entity in Johnson County.”

“Johnson County Developmental Supports is fortunate to have a partnership with the charitable organization, Friends of JCDS, which has historically focused on providing quality housing for persons with IDD (intellectual or developmental disabilities),” said Chad VonAhnen, executive director of Johnson County Developmental Supports. “For the last three years, Friends of JCDS has diligently worked to address the increasing needs of persons with IDD in finding affordable and accessible housing.”

Friends of JCDS added its 13th home last year. The 14th home is the start of an additional three homes to meet the nonprofit’s goal of 20 homes by 2025.

Bowers said creating accessibility for everyone — not just in housing but in things like curb cutting and closed captions on TVs serving the general public in restaurants — ultimately helps the community as a whole.

“It makes everybody’s life easier,” Bowers said. “So bringing that diversification into the world makes us a better community. We’re more diverse, we’re happier, we see things in better lights, and it helps everybody for a variety of reasons.

“So even though our house may look a little bit different, you have a more enriched community.”