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Integration of people with psychiatric disabilities into community housing

10.17.2018

The evolution of integrated housing by OMH. 

After massive deinstitutionalization prompted the creation of Office of Mental Health (OMH) transitional housing; community residences and treatment apartments with a time limited length of stay, a new need emerged.  Not every person in transitional housing was capable of graduating to totally independent living.   Additionally, many people who were discharged directly to the community were struggling to find safe, affordable housing.  OMH realized a need for permanent housing with supportive services. 

A few visionary OMH providers began to consolidate, or cluster supportive housing units into regular affordable housing, blending single supportive units with family housing.  Agencies including the Center for Urban Community Services and Community Access, were at the vanguard of this movement. 

In the mid 1970’s, Community Access bought an occupied building in Manhattan from NYC for $5,000,and began placing OMH supported tenants there, with supportive services provided by a grant from the state psychiatric center.  

“The OMH tenants reported that they never thought that they could live in a building with children and families.  At the same time, families appreciated the diversity and warmth of their shared community.”  Steve Coe, Chief Executive Officer of Community Access

In the early eighties the Center for Urban and Community Services, contracted with OMH through the NYC Dept of Health and Mental Health to provide services in mixed affordable settings, first at Broadway Housing Communities’ buildings and starting in the 90’s in Breaking Ground’s buildings.

According to CUCS’ President and CEO Tony Hannigan “There were so many indicators pointing to the need to integrate people with major chronic mental illnesses into community housing. Here it was the 1980’s with ever-growing numbers of homeless people, decades after mass deinstitutionalization and the promise of a community mental health system, and it still wasn’t happening.”  Additional state subsidy came from a one-time state initiative called the Special Needs Housing Fund.

Gradually the integrated model migrated throughout the state and agencies including Joseph’s House and Shelter in Troy, RUPCO in Kingston and Safe Harbors of the Hudson began mixing OMH units with community units.

NYS OMH took notice of these successes and ultimately embraced mixed development exclusively. The agency had been funding projects with a debt service model in collaboration with the Dormitory Authority. Mixed development and the expansion of the demand for supportive housing led to a deeper working relationship between NYS OMH and NYS Homes and Community Renewal (HCR) and increased understanding of supportive housing on the part of the state’s housing agency.  A set aside of Low Income Housing Tax Credits was introduced leveraging private investment in supportive housing.  The NYS Housing Finance Agency came on board and began to use 4% tax credits and bonds to fund larger, mixed development projects.  The Community Preservation Corporation played a major role in providing low interest loans to replace OMH capital in many of these early projects.

Later, on Long Island, Concern for Independent Living began mixed development focusing on homeless veterans in Liberty Village Amityville.  This building combined OMH housing and community units targeted to veterans and their families, providing a supportive living environment for both. As Executive Director Ralph Fasano notes, “People thrive in settings that offer community integration.”

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