Nonprofit agency helps Bethel Park family with disabilities get new accessible home
July 6, 2012 4:00 AM
The Accessible Dreams development team with the Liadis family in their new accessible kitchen. In front, from left, are Duane Fauth, director of construction services, Accessible Dreams; Kathleen Kleinmann, CEO, TRIPIL; and Valerie Liadis. In the back row, from left, are Cindy Bodnar, director of housing services, Accessible Dreams; Richard Zatta, ADA consultant, Accessible Dreams; Lucy Rooth, executive director, Accessible Dreams; Bridget Coyne, attorney, Regional Housing Legal Services; and Thomas and Catherine Liadis.
By Dave Zuchowski
For the past eight years, Liadis family members have struggled to maneuver around their Bethel Park apartment. All three have disabilities that mean they need canes, walkers and a wheelchair.
Thomas Liadis, 60, has diabetes and degenerative joint disease. His wife, Catherine, 62, has multiple sclerosis. With the help of her family, she uses a walker to get around the apartment, but falls frequently and needs the aid of an oxygen tank sporadically.
The couple's daughter, Valerie, 34, also has multiple sclerosis and has been diagnosed with lupus. She uses a wheelchair and undergoes physical therapy with the goal of using a walker to maneuver through her home. She is able to drive the family car using hand controls.
"We're just not able to get around in our apartment very well," Valerie Liadis said. "We've already had to widen doors, but the bathroom is so small, my parents and I had a difficult time getting in and out."
Thanks to Accessible Dreams, a nonprofit real estate developer, builder and service provider of accessible homes to the disabled, the family is getting ready to move this month to a new home in Canonsburg that has been designed to make their lives easier.
"Without help from Accessible Dreams, I wouldn't be able to move into the three-bedroom house with two handicapped-equipped bathrooms and an open floor plan," Mr. Liadis said. "The doors are extra wide, everything is on one floor, even the door seals are low for easy wheelchair access."
"Accessible Dreams asked us what we needed and designed a floor plan to fit our need and budget," Valerie Liadis said.
She said the organization provided the specifications to a pre-approved list of contractors, managed the project to completion and also included a security and emergency alert system.
Accessible Dreams formed two years ago with the goal of providing housing services for people with disabilities at all income levels. The nonprofit works with 35 families with disabilities in southwestern Pennsylvania and is supported by development fees for projects funded by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, new home construction, remodeling services such as bathroom and ramp installations and commissions earned through buying and selling real estate for people with disabilities.
The organization also gets operational support from Tri-County Patriots for Independent Living, the Washington, Greene and Fayette County chapter of a national organization that provides services to people with disabilities.
Accessible Dreams has received a $50,000 grant from the Pittsburgh-based FISA Foundation and another $40,000 grant from the Edith L. Trees Charitable Trust of Pittsburgh.
"We're gaining momentum at the moment, but do need additional support," said Lucy Rooth, Accessible Dreams' founder, who works from an office in Carnegie with three employees.
"A big part of our operation is renovation of existing homes so the disabled can remain there and lead independent lives. The cost of an accessible home remodel is dramatically less than that of a nursing home."
Mrs. Rooth said HUD is putting a lot of its money for disabled-accessible housing in big, concentrated projects. That requires disabled clients to move into a new community away from their family and existing medical network.
"What's needed is that the money be more fluid so that the disabled who need a housing subsidy can live in their neighborhood of choice," Mrs. Rooth said. "The Redevelopment Authority of Washington County was the first to recognize this and modified HUD's Homebuyer Assistance Program to fit the concerns of the disabled, including choice of location."
With the help of Accessible Dreams, which helped them find funding, Liadis family members said they will soon be able to live comfortably and safely in a new home.
Disabled since the early 1990s, Mr. Liadis said the family's health issues have been a financial drain; without financial and logistical help from Accessible Dreams, they would not have their new home. He believes his family's quality of life will dramatically improve because "they now have a home that is barrier-free."