Few options for residents being asked to vacate Hope Apartments in Greeley

GREELEY — Deb Walters’ home in Hope Apartments provides everything a 64-year-old living with cerebral palsy needs — a roll-in shower, a bed lift, aides to cook and clean, proximity to a grocery store, a nearby bus stop and a bike path she can use to drive her motorized wheelchair to a park.

For 39 years, Walters has lived in homes run by Adeo, the nonprofit that owns Hope Apartments. But last month, Walters and other residents were told to find another place to live.

“Every time I wake up every morning I’m just nervous,” Walters said amid tears.

The Hope Apartments provides 31 accessible units for people with disabilities who live on a limited income. On Dec. 2, Adeo managers taped notices to residents’ doors to notify them that the building might be repurposed and they should plan to vacate by July.

The apartments are unique because every unit is designed for a person who uses a wheelchair, every resident is connected to services and all are designated low-income housing. Now residents say they are struggling to find new homes to replace what they call a one-of-a-kind community in northern Colorado, and they — and their advocates — have questions as to why they are being asked to leave.

“Housing is incredibly scarce. Waitlists are long. Finding 30 units is going to be incredibly difficult,” said Julie Reiskin, co-executive director of the Colorado Cross Disability Coalition.

The letter tacked on residents’ doors was vague.

It said the Adeo board of directors was “considering repurposing” the building and “work likely will begin in July 2023.” However, when residents started calling and emailing Adeo’s managers, they were told their leases were being terminated, said Doug Peters, who has lived at Hope Apartments for 10 years.

Peters said he never has received a clear explanation as to what repurposing the building means or what Adeo plans to do with the site.

“But what was clear is that they were going to ask all the tenants to leave by the first of July of this year,” Peters said.

Sarita Reddy, Adeo’s executive director, told The Denver Post that she and the nonprofit’s board of directors are not sure what the future of Hope Apartments will be. And she insists that the 28 tenants were not advised to leave but that they were being extended a courtesy notice that things might change.

But the building is old and needs renovations, Reddy said.  And the pandemic forced Adeo to shutter its home health service, which provided care to the apartments’ residents, and now the complex no longer fits with the nonprofit’s primary mission — to provide housing and supportive care to people living with disabilities, she said.

Adeo is not in financial trouble, she said.

The nonprofit ran in the black in 2019 with most of its revenue coming from the services it offered, according to its most recent tax filing available in the IRS database. That year, the agency’s total revenue was $4.2 million, and it finished the year with $105,957 on the books, Adeo’s Form 990, the tax document filed by nonprofits, showed.

The Post asked Reddy to provide a copy of the agency’s most recent 990 filing but she declined.

Meanwhile, the Adeo board of directors still is figuring out what will be the best use for the building. The board was scheduled to discuss plans during a Thursday meeting, but no decisions are expected until March, she said.

“This is a long, complicated, nuanced story,” Reddy said.

Reddy promises residents will not be left homeless.

“If they are to transition, it certainly will be with our help,” Reddy said. “They won’t be left to navigate it alone.”

The nonprofit that manages Hope Apartments was founded in 1983 by Hope Cassidy, a community activist for people living with disabilities. The nonprofit originally was called the Greeley Center for Independence. The first incarnation of its apartment homes was near the University of Northern Colorado campus and called Camelot I. Over the years, more apartments were added and in different locations until Hope Apartments was opened in 2005 at its location on 28th Avenue in Greeley.

Cara Machina, Cassidy’s daughter, said her mother founded the Greeley Center for Independence after placing her own mother in a nursing home. Cassidy was not satisfied with the care and called a meeting at her church. One hundred people showed up, Machina said.

Cassidy saw young people in wheelchairs living in nursing homes because they had no other place to go, so she founded the apartments to provide them somewhere to live independently. She also created a campus for people with brain injuries called Stephens Farm, which is still run by Adeo. And she built a warm water therapy pool for the agency’s clients.

“She just kind of saw needs and then she would fix it,” Machina said.

When Machina and her brother, Rob Cassidy, received word about the changes at Hope Apartments, they were surprised. Machina said they have not received clear answers about Hope Apartments’ future, and their offers to help fundraise or do whatever else is needed have been ignored.

“With Hope Apartments there really isn’t anything like that in Greeley,” Machina said. “For people with disabilities, there’s really nowhere else for them to live independently.”

Since the coronavirus pandemic hit in early 2020, services have been scaled back at Hope Apartments.

Adeo was impacted by the national nursing shortage that happened as people quit the health care industry during the pandemic, Reddy said. After the nonprofit lost multiple employees, it closed its home health services, which provided aides and other health professionals to assist Hope residents with cooking, cleaning, baths and other personal care.

“At that point, Hope Apartments for Adeo simply transitioned into an affordable housing complex,” Reddy said.

And that’s never been the nonprofit’s mission.

Walters and Peters, who are among the nine residents who use wheelchairs, said they were able to keep their nurses and aides after another company hired former Adeo employees. But they became responsible for filing paperwork and paying bills rather than Adeo.

Walters’ aides arrive around 5 a.m. to help her out of bed and get her dressed for the day. They cook her meals and feed her. They bathe her and clean her apartment. Then they return around 4 p.m. to help her get in bed, where she is fed her evening meal.

“The only thing I can really do is drive my wheelchair and get around town,” said Walters, whose wheelchair has 3,000 miles on it. “My physical care, I can’t do that.”

Walters, whose family lives in Casper, Wyoming, moved into apartments run by the nonprofit when she was 26 years old after finishing therapy at a rehabilitation center in Denver. She chose the Greeley apartments because Casper did not offer anything like it, and she wanted a chance to live independently from her parents.

“Of course I was scared,” she said of moving into her own place.

But she learned how to be independent in spite of her physical obstacles. Walters earned a bachelor’s degree at the University of Northern Colorado. She volunteers at the city’s performing arts center. She knows the workers at her local King Soopers and trusts them to help her shop and handle her money to pay for her groceries.

And her living space is uniquely her’s, with a collage of family pictures on the living room wall, Elvis Presley posters in her bedroom and a television to watch her favorite shows.

Greeley is Walters’ home, and any move likely will force her to leave the town where she’s built a community of friends. Her brothers in Wyoming keep searching for a new home but so far they’ve been unsuccessful, she said.

“I like it very much,” Walters said. “I sure don’t want to move and there’s nowhere to move to.”

Adeo made another change in the past year when property managers told residents that the nonprofit would no longer provide the lifts installed above their beds. If they wanted to keep them, residents had to pay a one-time $300 fee, Walters and Peters said. Those who didn’t need lifts let them go.

Walters and Peters kept theirs because they cannot get out of bed by themselves.

Reiskin, whose organization works for social justice for people living with all sorts of disabilities, said she thinks Adeo violated state and federal health care laws when they forced residents to pay for their lifts. An agency is not allowed to charge someone for a service or equipment that was provided by Medicaid. She has filed a complaint with the state over it.

“Again, you’re taking away someone’s home health services, and then to say, ‘I’m going to take away your lift that helps you get out of bed.’ It’s just out-and-out cruelty,” Reiskin said.

Still, Hope Apartments is affordable. Walters and Peters said they receive a Section 8 housing voucher that covers about 70% of their $995 monthly rent.

“I can’t pay a lot,” Walters said.

Peters, 60, moved to Hope Apartments 10 years ago after he fell and suffered a spinal cord injury that left him unable to move any part of his body except his hands. He was referred to the apartment complex by his care team at Lakewood’s Craig Hospital, and Hope Apartments proved to be the perfect living situation.

“The part that worked out good is that I was not in a nursing home and I was not in assisted living,” he said. “I could live independently and have home care.”

Peters writes emails and makes phone calls daily but has not found another agency or apartment. Places either are not accessible, are out of his price range or do not have vacancies.

“I don’t want to move, No. 1,” he said. “But having to move, there’s just a whole other set of problems. It’s like a whole other full-time job to find another apartment. It’s frustrating. And it makes you mad when you think, ‘Why is this necessary?’”

Adeo staff recognizes the looming changes are upsetting, Reddy said. Even though the nonprofit could have waited until a more definitive plan was in place, staff decided residents needed as much time as possible to prepare for a move. Residents will be the first to know once the board decides what to do with the building, she said.

“We knew people would be upset and anxious,” she said. “But we decided it would be in their best interest to have information well in advance. Wouldn’t you want plenty of notice so you could at least explore your options?”

But Reiskin argues six months is not enough time, given the complexity of residents’ situations and needs.

Adeo should come up with a definitive plan for its building and then give residents 18 to 24 months to find a new home, she said.

“These are not the kind of people you can give a list and say, ‘Go find housing,’” Reiskin said.

Get more Colorado news by signing up for our daily Your Morning Dozen email newsletter.

Source: Read Full Article