Janice Wright was having a tough run. In November 2015, she was told that she had 20 days to find a new home for herself and her son Matthew, 18. The severity of their situation was compounded by Matthew’s special needs: he cannot care for himself because of his diagnoses of autism, epilepsy and Angelman syndrome, a disorder that often creates a sunny disposition in those affected but also afflicts them with mobility issues, speech impairments and severe developmental delays. As Matthew’s sole caretaker, it became critical that Wright find somewhere for the two of them to live.
Knowing she had a limited window of time, Wright reached out to the Harford County government to find out what her options were. Among the communities she learned about was Riverwoods at Tollgate, a development in Abingdon, funded in part by the Department of Housing and Community Development. The community was so new it wasn’t even open to residents yet. Wright spoke with property management, and on December 4, 2015, she and Matthew became the first family to move in.
Housing is unique in Maryland; it’s the state’s first development to meet U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Section 811 designation, which means the property was developed to assist low-income individuals with disabilities. Thirteen of the 71 units are set aside for those who meet this classification, while its other units offer a mix of affordable and market-priced housing.
The development team was Osprey Property Company LLC, PaxEdwards LLC, and Harford Community Action Agency, Inc., and Habitat America will serve as property manager. The Department of Housing and Community Development administered $971,787 in federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credits with an estimated equity value of $10 million, as well as $179,712 in Section 811 funding, the maximum allowable annual contract.
All 84 units at Riverwoods at Tollgate are currently full and there’s a healthy waiting list to get in, according to Jeff Paxson, president of PaxEdwards LLC. The development team has plans to build phase II of the project within the next few years, featuring additional section 811 and low income units. Paxson hopes to see it get underway in 2018.
“It’s a rare opportunity to have units like these at these price points,” Paxson said. “[The residents] love being there, and we love having them. It’s a win-win.”
Wright was heartened by the landlord’s willingness to work with her through simple things, like allowing her to get a handheld showerhead so she can help her son bathe more easily and by adding a second lock to the door to combat the elopement issues that can accompany autism.
“I have the best neighbors ever,” Wright said. “They’re always looking out for us. If I need help, we all look out for each other.”
She has also found that many of her neighbors have cared for loved ones with disabilities, are sensitive to the challenges her son faces and are willing to help however possible.
“I’ve been stared at the entire time we’ve been out,” Wright said. “People get rude. It’s nice to be someplace you know you’re accepted. You can relax a little.”
Matthew, who attends a special school in Hunt Valley, likes to stay active with his mother in running and racing. The pair is planning a biking trip across the Eastern Shore in summer 2016, and in October Matthew will compete in his first triathlon. When they’re at home, they love to stroll around the community. Matthew has made friends all over.
“It’s the most perfect choice ever,” Wright said. “I was a newly-single mom with a special needs kid, and he’s getting bigger and stronger. There’s a lot of special needs we face. I feel like I’m at home. My neighbors are my extended family, and that’s important.”