Virginia Beach Beacon
BY TONY STEIN
The world is full of everyday barriers for Sean Chrisemer and Jacqueline Brown.
Steps they can’t climb.
Counters they can’t reach.
Doorways they can’t squeeze through.
That’s why there is an apartment building called The Anchorage in Norfolk. And it’s why an apartment building called The Sanderling is under construction in Chesapeake.
They make living more accessible for disabled people in wheelchairs like Chrisemer and Brown. And the facilities are made possible by a nonprofit organization based in Virginia Beach.
When Accessible Housing Corporation of South Hampton Roads built The Anchorage’s 25 units near Wards Corner in 1999, it literally opened the door to a new life for Chrisemer and Brown and opened the eyes of others to the possibilities.
“It’s a great improvement in my life,” said Chrisemer, who has cerebral palsy.
STEPHEN M. KATZ PHOTOS / THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT Sean Chrisemer passes through the kitchen of his apartment at Norfolk’s The Anchorage, an accessible housing facility with lower, open counters and appliances.
Brown, who was left partially paralyzed by a car accident six years ago, said The Anchorage has brought her so much closer to a normal life.
The doors in their apartments are at least 30 inches wide, compared to the standard 26 inches.
The counters measure 2 inches lower than usual, and open spaces beneath the counters allow their wheelchairs to roll close.
The halls of the building are wide enough to allow two wheelchairs to pass each other.
By next summer, The Sanderling will open with 20 similar units on a 1½-acre site at Campostella Square in South Norfolk, but it won’t come close to meeting the demand for such housing.
“The disabled population is probably the most underserved in the city,” said Brenda Willis, executive director of the Chesapeake Redevelopment and Housing Authority, which donated land for the project. “To have a development in our community that serves them is definitely a plus.”
The impetus for the apartments came in 1977 when the 18-yearold son of Navy Capt. Robert Horan became disabled after he dove into water that was too shallow. Horan, who lives in Virginia Beach, began researching options for disabled people like his son, eventually retiring from military service in 1980.
“My research told me that the hardest thing to overcome was the lack of affordable, accessible housing,” he said. “Disabled people could go to college and get benefits but accessible, affordable housing was impossible. The only options for many were nursing homes, and there weren’t enough to meet the need. Besides that, these people don’t belong there.
“I did more research to see if anyone had the answer and found Accessible Space Inc., of St. Paul, Minn. It’s a non-profit organization that has built more than 100 facilities like The Anchorage all across the country.”
In 1994, Horan and other local volunteers formed a non-profit group they called Accessible Housing Corporation of South Hampton Roads. They agreed to partner with the Minnesota organization in seeking grant money for construction after the Ripley-Heatwole development company and its partner Sun America donated land.
Primary funding for The Anchorage was a $1.4 million grant from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. Other funds included $120,000 from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Atlanta, $110,000 from the city of Norfolk, grants from foundations and private contributions. The Anchorage opened five years ago, and it’s been full ever since with a waiting list that now numbers 50.
The one- and two-bedroom apartment design makes everything accessible to a person in a wheelchair, including a roll-in shower. All the doorways are wide enough to comfortably admit a wheelchair without bruising knuckles on the way.
“I have lived in a group home where they wanted to know where you were going, when you’d be back and what you were doing,” said Chrisemer, 35. “Now I have a lot more freedom. Besides, the bathroom wasn’t very accessible, and you had to figure ways to use it that normal people wouldn’t have to.”
Brown, also 35, is paralyzed from the chest down from her 1998 car accident but has limited use of her hands and arms. She lives in a two-bedroom apartment with her sons – Elijah, 8, and Kijante, 14.
“The apartment is very accessible,” Brown said. “I had a lot of frustration in a normal living situation. I couldn’t get through doors, and it was very frustrating. Here, all of a sudden I’m going through doors.”
Her favorite feature is the roll-in shower.
“No more bed baths with people having to help me,” she said with a broad smile.
Funding for The Sanderling in Chesapeake is being provided primarily through a $1.2 million HUD grant. Other money is coming from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Atlanta; a $157,000 federal grant administered through the Chesapeake Housing and Redevelopment Authority; $55,000 from the City of Virginia Beach; and donations from the Norfolk, Beazley and Parsons foundations; and individuals.
The Anchorage and The Sanderling are open to lowincome residents of South Hampton Roads. Under HUD guidelines, qualified residents pay 30 percent of their adjusted income as rent.
With The Sanderling under way, Horan said his group is working with people on the Eastern Shore where they hope to build accessible apartments next.
He added that Accessible Housing Corporation has discussed building a similar facility in Virginia Beach, but the cost of land poses the biggest barrier.
While nobody disagrees about the need for more housing, some wonder if segregating the disabled population is the best approach. It’s a debate that recently resurfaced in Virginia Beach over construction by a different non-profit group of a housing facility exclusively for the mentally disabled.
Richard DiPeppe, director for advocacy and service of the non-profit Endependence Center in Norfolk, has concerns about facilities like The Anchorage for that reason and others.
For example, HUD formerly offered a program that provided accessible housing for both young and old disabled persons. But, DiPeppe said, problems in those units arose because the lifestyles of various age groups were not compatible.
What HUD did was change the program to serve those 50 and older, creating a real shortage of affordable, accessible housing for younger people, DiPeppe said.
Horan understands the concerns but isn’t deterred in pressing on with his organization’s plans.
“In an ideal world, a really mobility impaired person would be able to live in his or her affordable, accessible apartment and receive required personal assistance there,” he said. “Unfortunately, this scenario does not exist in most cases and The Anchorage provides it.
“I look at the residents of The Anchorage and see them living as close to a normal life as possible,” he said. “It makes me feel wonderful.”
STEPHEN M. KATZ / THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT Sean Chrisemer, center, and Jackie Brown chat in the hallway at The Anchorage, a barrier-free facility for the physically disabled in Norfolk.
STEPHEN M. KATZ / THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT The Anchorage in Norfolk has inspired plans for The Sanderling, now under construction at Campostella Square in South Norfolk.