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Wisconsin parents design housing to accommodate disabilities

MOUNT HOREB, Wis. (AP) — A group of parents in south-central Wisconsin is forming a group to build affordable housing for their adult children with disabilities.

Mary Anne Oemichen and Susan Wallitsch are leading the group of parents, which goes by the name of their proposed apartment complex, Home of Our Own. The group functions under the anti-poverty organization Southwestern Wisconsin Community Action Program.

Oemichen and Wallitsch met more than 20 years ago when their children, who both have autism, were young. Their children are now in their mid- to late-twenties and live in their parents’ homes.

Oemichen and Wallitsch got in touch with other parents over their desire to find a way their children could live independently someday, Wisconsin Public Radio reported.

“Let’s face it, we are going to die one day, and we would much rather plan thoughtfully and to not have the planning be driven by a crisis,” Oemichen said.

The parents said they didn’t want to put their children in group homes or isolated apartments because of fears that doing so could expose them to abuse. People with intellectual disabilities experience sexual assault at a rate seven times higher than those without disabilities, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

The parents of Home of Our Own have spent the past six years dreaming up an integrated community and 40-unit apartment complex in the small town of New Glarus, where their children can live on their own among friends and neighbors.

One-fourth of the apartments will be designed with special accommodations to meet the needs of people with disabilities. The rest will be offered for those in need of affordable workforce housing.

Wallitsch said workers in the area earns $22 per hour or less, often struggling to pay rent.

Nonprofit developers, disability advocates and state officials all agree that Wisconsin lacks housing options that are both affordable and accessible.

Oemichen and Wallitsch hope that making Home of Our Own affordable will attract other tenants such as young workers or senior citizens.

The parents are looking to raise $500,000 to build the apartments and hope to have the complex opened next year.

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