This New Apartment Building Will House People With and Without Autism

A new kind of apartment building is currently in the works in Heidelberg, Pennsylvania.

The Autism Housing Development Corporation of Pittsburgh and Diamond & Associates, an affordable housing development agency in Philadelphia, are building an apartment complex that will house people with and without autism in the same building, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.

The Dave Wright Apartments, which may be the first residency of its kind, will include 42 one- or two-bedroom units. Around half will be allocated for adults with higher-functioning autism who can live largely independently and are able to work. The other half will be filled with people who are not on the autism spectrum. In addition, the building will include six units designed for people with physical disabilities.

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A 3D rendering of the apartment building, courtesy of Elliot Frank

“It’s great that there are already different wonderful living opportunities for people with autism, but [those options are] still isolating them,” Elliot Frank, President of the Autism Housing Development Corporation of Pittsburgh (AHDCP), told The Mighty. “We’re going to integrate people within the building.” Frank has a personal stake in the project as well — he and Roy Diamond of Diamond & Associates both have sons with autism.

Frank says the inspiration for the project came about three or four years ago when he spoke with Randy Lewis, the former Senior Vice President for Supply Chain & Logistics at Walgreens, who’s worked extensively to provide job opportunities for people with disabilities.

“I wondered where those adults with disabilities who are able hold down those jobs live,” Frank told The Mighty. “When I talked with [Lewis], he told me they didn’t look into that. So that’s when the idea came to me.”

Physically, the building looks like any other apartment building — other than the units for people with physical disabilities, there’s nothing about the development that sets it apart from typical residence buildings. It also does not include 24-hour support staff. However, the AHDCP is taking a number of steps to ensure the apartments’ residents with autism are well integrated. The corporation is partnering with NHS Human Services in Lafayette Hill, Pennsylvania, to help provide job counseling services for residents with autism. AHDCP also plans to partner with Goodwill Industries and Giant Eagle, a large supermarket chain, to help residents find jobs. Though support staff will not be on site at all times, they will be available during select hours. The development will host movie nights and other social events so residents with autism can interact with others and form a community.

Developers plan to break ground on the building in late July 2015 and open doors to residents by September 2016. Frank says he’s already heard feedback from many people who hope to apply to live in the apartments, particularly from parents who would like their adult sons and daughters to live there.

“The hope is that others will want to do the same thing we’re doing,” Frank told The Mighty. “It’s an experiment, but we think it’s doing to do really well.”

Information about applying to live at the Dave Wright Apartment is not yet available, but to learn more about the project, visit the AHDCP website.

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