In Lebanon, a new concept in housing for the handicapped

Community Homes of Lebanon Valley, Inc. recently broke ground on a new housing concept for individuals with ambulatory disabilities at 731 Maple St. in Lebanon. (Photo Provided)

A Lebanon County retirement community is experimenting with a new housing concept it believes could fill the rapidly growing demand for handicap-accessible living.

Community Homes of Lebanon Valley operates six affordable housing high-rise apartments for residents 62 years and older. Of the nonprofit’s 285 units, its 16 handicap accessible units have a waiting list that would take approximately 50 years to fill, said Charlie Rush, CEO of Community Homes.

“One of our buildings has six units in it and all of the handicap accessible units are full,” Rush said. “The waiting list is so extensive that if those six were available today, I could fill them immediately.”

Community Homes’ solution to the waiting list was to design a single-story duplex that could house one resident in each unit and be built from the ground up for accessibility. The new apartment would be available to anyone 18 or older with ambulatory disabilities, compared to Community Homes’ senior facilities for residents 62 or older.

The design for the duplex features two 550-square-foot apartments outfitted with handicap parking, roll-in showers, front-loading washers and dryers and lower-accessible kitchen cabinets.

“These cottages will meet all ADA requirements, and are constructed in a cost-efficient manner, with the disabled resident in mind,” Rush said.

Community Homes broke ground on its first duplex using the design this month at 731 Maple St. in Lebanon and expects to finish construction in April. The duplex apartments are being built as a trial that will allow the Lebanon community to get a feel for the idea before the company moves forward with more buildings in the style.

With Community Homes’ other projects, the organization has sought income housing tax credits from the state to help with funding.

That funding has become harder to get over the years and rather than go along with a time consuming and expensive application process, Rush said his hope is that the local interest in handicap-accessible living will be what the nonprofit needs to fund future builds of the concept.

“These are much smaller in scale and the projects (Community Homes) have done over the years are multiple floors, one is a 10-story building, and they are large projects,” said Bob Hoffman, the Lebanon office manager for Lititz-based architecture firm Beers & Hoffman. “This gives you a different bite of the apple.”

If concept is successful and the company sees interest in building more of the duplexes, Community Homes is already looking at land where it could build a 23-unit “pocket neighborhood,” Rush said.

The neighborhood, at Canal Street in Lebanon, would feature buildings similar to the incoming duplex, but would have two bedrooms instead of one.

Community Homes will be looking at scaling the project even further to accommodate families with three to four bedroom dwellings if there is interest in the future, Rush said.