CAPITOL — In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic that has hit nursing homes and group living facilities hard, a local state assemblyman is proposing that the state again encourage families to build additions to their homes to care for the elderly, or disabled adults who can’t live independently.
Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, has introduced legislation in the Assembly that would offer homeowners access to interest-free loans for up to half the cost of adding an additional bedroom or two to existing homes — the concept often known as adding an “in-law” apartment. The maximum on such a loan would be $50,000.
“As we begin the COVID-19 recovery process, we need to rethink housing and find better options,” Santabarbara said. “Making accessory dwelling units more accessible to New York families will provide our loved ones the ability to live independently, but with a built-in safety net.”
The loans would be available for adding accessory dwelling units — typically, with a bedroom, bathroom and kitchen — to an existing residence for use by a disabled adult or an adult over age 62. Santabarbara said such additions can cost anywhere between $50,000 and $150,000, which many families would find difficult to afford.
“Its an old idea, but it’s a new idea for the purposes I’m talking about,” said Santabarbara, who has a son on the autism spectrum who will soon age-out of an educational placement, and who has been outspoken in support of supporting the cause of people with autism. He is chairman of the Assembly Subcommittee on Autism Spectrum Disorders.
The Santabarbara bill has 19 Assembly co-sponsors, including Assemblyman Phil Steck, D-Colonie.
The bill has the support of advocacy groups for both older people and the disabled.
“We’ve done a lot of work on these auxiliary dwelling units, and we do support (the bill),” said Kristen McManus, the AARP New York’s associate state director for advocacy. “From our surveys, the concept is very popular, as far as being able to care for people in their homes or nearby.”
“We see it as one of the housing solution. For homeowners, it could be a very viable,” said Janine Kruiswijk, executive director of the Autism Society of the Greater Capital Region.
She said many senior citizens and people with developmental disabilities can live nearly independently with access to support, which could come through family or other sources. “In the long run, it is less expensive to create these scenarios than to further add to an overburdened group home system,” Kruiswijk said.
The state has about 340,000 adults on the autism spectrum, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control. “Currently, the primary housing option for these individuals is community-based housing in which they share a group home with other adults,” Santabarbara said. “Families of those living in community housing, however, have expressed concern with limited options for family caregivers to provide the individual support necessary to address their specific needs.”
The assemblyman said a 2018 study by the national AARP found that 84% of families with a disabled relative would consider building an accessory dwelling unit to care for them, but the cost is a major limiting factor.
Any such additions would still be subject to local zoning regulations, which in many communities restrict adding a dwelling unit to a single-family residence. A different bill, introduced in the state Senate and Assembly, would establish statewide guidelines for accessory dwelling units, to narrow differences in their regulation from community to community.
“That works well with the Santabarbara bill,” said the AARP’s McManus.
The Santabarbara bill has been assigned to the Assembly Housing Committee. Santabarbara is in the process of seeking a Senate sponsor for the bill, but said he is optimistic about Senate sponsorship.
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