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From Vision to Reality - How a New Kind of Affordable Housing Accessible to Persons With Developmental Disabilities Found a Home in Rural Wisconsin


May 9, 2019

By Matt Geiger

Six years ago, a group of parents began to seriously question, “What happens to our sons and daughters with autism and other developmental disabilities when we are no longer able to care for them?”

Led by Susan Wallitsch and Mary Anne Oemichen, the group has developed an innovative housing model that addresses the needs of housing for adults with autism and other disabilities, Wisconsin workers struggling to afford rising housing costs, and seniors on a fixed income. Calling their group “Home of Our Own” (HOOO), and partnering with Wisconsin Housing Preservation Corporation (WHPC) and Southwestern Wisconsin Community Action Program (SWCAP), the group is on the brink of breaking ground on this unique private-public partnership.

Set on six acres on Elmer Road in New Glarus, the project will have 40 apartment units ranging from one to three bedrooms. Ten units are earmarked for people with significant special needs and will have architectural features to support this population. Approximately 25 units are available for people making $22/hour or less, and the remaining units will be rented at market rate. The project’s total estimated cost is standing at $8.5-million. The project will also incorporate gardens, communal areas, and walking paths, all in close proximity to New Glarus’ array of shopping and dining options.

Once the project is built, HOOO will have an ongoing role in facilitating opportunities for shared social events and natural supports within the larger community. HOOO’s long-term goal is to maintain quality of life and access to amenities for the special needs population.

Wallitsch understands first-hand what happens when a health crisis prevents you from caring for your loved one. Wallitsch was her son Frank’s primary caregiver until faced with emergency cancer treatment five years ago. She and her family struggled to get caregivers in place quickly. Wallitsch said, “Having cancer is not easy. But trying to find and pay for caregivers for our son was the real crisis.” Wallitsch’s experience exemplifies families’ worst nightmare for their sons and daughters. Oemichen said, “Our number one goal is to have our sons and daughters transition to independent living in a thoughtful and deliberate way, not a crisis-driven way.”

HOOO’s goal is not only to build this first project, but also to help other family groups building similar projects in their own communities. The outpouring of communication to HOOO from other family groups nation and worldwide is astonishing, but not surprising. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network, 1 in 59 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The total costs per year for children with ASD in the United States are estimated to be between $11.5 billion – $60.9 billion (2011 US dollars). This significant economic burden represents a variety of direct and in-direct costs, from medical care to special education to lost parental productivity, and now, to housing.

As all projects of this size and cost do, it needs additional funding. While grants have been applied for, and tax credit financing secured, in order to keep on schedule for a fall of 2020 completion, the families behind HOOO are currently looking for additional ways to attract gifts from individuals, families and businesses. HOOO has committed to raise $500,000 to make this project a reality and has, to date, raised $75,000.

HOOO has turned to a unique Wisconsin-based crowdsourcing organization for assistance with fundraising. The crowdfunding website that HOOO is using is called 100 Extraordinary Women. This is a way for women in the community to come together in support of the new rental community, leading the campaign by raising $100,000 or more.

100 Extraordinary Women is a Madison-based organization that empowers women to join together to support causes they believe in and create a bigger impact than they could on their own. 100 Extraordinary Women is asking a minimum of 100 women to each donate or pledge $1,000 to the HOOO campaign. Pledges can be made over 5 years ($200 per year; $18.00 per month); gifts and pledges can be made directly via the 100 Extraordinary Women website:

HOOO’s nonprofit development partner, WHPC, is a leader in developing, managing, and maintaining rental housing in Wisconsin. For the past 20 years, WHPC has been addressing the shortage of workforce housing by developing, acquiring and preserving a supply of affordable rental housing. Today, WHPC owns over 8,200 units in 57 of the state’s 72 counties. Even with the unemployment rate at an all-time low, the pay disparity compared to increased housing costs still requires an adequate supply of workforce units.

WHPC has secured $500,000 in Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago funding and has applied for and secured tax credit financing, the combination of which will pay for the vast majority of the rental community.

“With every dollar, we are closer to creating a reality where differently abled people, people in need of workforce housing, and seniors on a fixed income can live together in a community surrounded by accessibility, comfort, and well-being,” says Wallitsch.

About Home of Our Own (HOOO)

Home of Our Own (HOOO) grew from a dream of a small group of families who shared a similar need and vision: to find homes for a group of adults with autism and other developmental disabilities. HOOO envisioned creating a place in the New Glarus, WI, area that would allow these young adults to live as independently as possible in a stable, safe and familiar setting - a place where they can be integral and valued members of their larger community.

About 100 Extraordinary Women

100 Extraordinary Women’s founder Jodi Sweeney has been committed to non-profit organizations for more than 20 years, including executive and leadership positions with the Foundation for Madison’s Public Schools, Capital Fund Raising Committee, and Madison Community Foundation. She helped found the Junior League of Madison, WI, the Madison Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, and the National Association of School Foundations. 100 Extraordinary Women has helped raise millions of dollars for charitable organizations like The Milwaukee Soldiers Home, the Fine Arts Foundation of the Westby Area, the A1. Ringling Theatre, several Wisconsin-based public libraries, and RE:new, a Chicago-based non-profit that gives hope to refugee women.


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