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AUSTIN EDITION -- Austin housing facility gets $5,000

By Nikki Merfeld

*merfeld@postbulletin.com

A housing facility that would provide health-care services to "very-low-income elderly people" received a $5,000 pledge of support from Austin's Housing and Redevelopment Authority Board Wednesday.

Former Austin resident Stephen Vander Schaaf, president and chief executive officer of Accessible Space Inc., made the $5,000 request to Austin's finance committee last week. Committee member Dick Lang refused to consider the request there, because it did not first go through the HRA board. Lang is the chairman of the HRA board.

At Wednesday's HRA meeting, Lang abstained from voting because of a conflict of interest, but encouraged board members to consider the fact that Accessible Space wants to build a complex that could take potential residents away from the HRA's Pickett Place and Twin Towers.

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"We have designed spaces to deal with people of this kind," agreed HRA Executive Director Kermit Mahan. "What we can do is work together to advance both ventures."

Dr. David Piltz represented Accessible Space at Wednesday's meeting. He said the firm works with HRAs in St. Paul and Minneapolis to provide services in their facilities, so doing the same in Austin would pose no problem.

Care provided includes assistance with bathing, moving around within the apartments, turning disabled patients in their beds at night and helping with homemaker chores, said Piltz. The firm employs personal care assistants, who staff the facility around the clock.

HRA board member Dick Chaffee said his concern is whether Accessible Space would suffer from a statewide nursing shortage.

Piltz said many assisted-living facilities employ three to four times as many people as Accessible Space would.

"We're looking at 15," he said. "Not all residents would need all the services available."

Lang asked if such a facility would place extra financial needs on Mower County Health and Human Services.

Board member Mickey Jorgenson said the service would cost less than having residents live in nursing homes.

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Bruce Henricks, director of the county's human services department, wrote a letter of support for Accessible Space, said Piltz.

Board members voted to support the $5,000 request in turn for shared health care services in HRA buildings.

"If we both win, guess who's really winning -- the people we are serving," said Mahan.

The pledge is contingent upon Accessible Space receiving project funding from the U.S. Housing and Urban Development department, Piltz said. Before approval, HUD would conduct a market study to determine the need for such a project.

HUD gives preference to projects that prove they have community support, Piltz said.

Accessible Space operates Prairie Sky Apartments in Austin. The firm was formed after a friend of Vander Schaaf's was severely injured in an accident.

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