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Cares awarded $4 million contract to increase home, community services for older adults and people with disabilities

Linda Kendall FieldsUNC’s Center for Aging Research and Educational Services (Cares) has been awarded a $4 million state contract to help increase the state’s availability of affordable and accessible housing and community services for older adults and people with disabilities.

The contract is funded through Money Follows the Person, a demonstration project that helps Medicaid-eligible North Carolinians who live in state licensed facilities, including nursing homes, move into their own homes and communities with support. Availability and access to transportation, staff that provide direct care, as well as friends, neighbors and other connections within the community are especially critical for these transitions.

In its contract role, UNC will oversee a grant program designed to reward organizations across the state that can work collaboratively to strengthen the lives of older adults and people with disabilities, including those with intellectual and developmental disabilities and traumatic brain injuries. Selected grantees will receive $150,000 a year over five years. The partnership aligns with the overall mission of Cares, which was founded by Gary Nelson in 1987 to improve the lives of older and younger North Carolinians with disabilities and their families.

In addition to developing and managing the grant process, Cares will provide technical assistance, and help grantees design the best tools for measuring the progress of their plans, said Linda Kendall Fields, Cares program coordinator. Organizations must consider the resources that older adults and adults with disabilities say they need to live successfully in their communities. Ideal candidates will also partner with other individuals and agencies to significantly improve the availability of home and community-based services.

“We’re really looking for applicants who have positive track records in their communities; have knowledge and experience with these demographic groups; and are energized and open to using a collective impact approach to achieve desired outcomes,” Kendall Fields said.

Ultimately, the goal is to ensure that people with disabilities have the same access to housing and community living as anyone without a disability, she noted.

Although North Carolina has been working for years to improve community-based housing and supports for people with disabilities, there continues to be an institutional bias and a significant waiting list for the limited number of options across the state. These challenges are also related to an overall affordable housing shortage. According to the nonprofit Technical Assistance Collaborative, a person with a disability who depends on social security income for rent cannot currently afford a one-bedroom unit in the state and would have to spend 99% of that money just to rent an efficiency unit.

“Among the barriers to community living that people with disabilities may encounter, the one most consistently voiced is accessible, affordable housing,” Kendall Fields said.

Kendall Fields, along with Cares team members Annamae Giles and Beth Lowder, are preparing the grant project materials and website now and anticipate opening up the application process by November. Four grantees are expected to be selected by March 2022.