A Nontraditional Approach to Traditional Housing
When Nathaniel Diskint’s family began looking at housing options for his brother, Jeremy, who lives with Down syndrome, one thing was clear—traditional housing for residents with special needs offered very little besides basic room and board. The homes were tucked away in the suburbs, employment options were slim and the facilities were mostly non-inclusive. This missed opportunity led to the creation of Cohome, an inclusive supportive housing model that provides so much more than housing.
What is Cohome?
Cohome is an inclusive housing provider that creates homes for people with disabilities to share with people without disabilities. We’re open to all ages, but residents tend to be in their late 20s or early 30s.
Our residents with disabilities receive support staff as needed, but support staff doesn’t live in the residences. That’s what makes our neurotypical residents such an important part of the equation.
How do you mean?
Neurotypical residents join our home as peers, friends and advisors. Many people with disabilities have limited exposure to people who are not family or professionals paid to be with them. And that is debilitating. It does nothing to help support healthy social skills.
My younger brother, Jeremy, lives in one of our homes and was the inspiration for our model. Jeremy was lucky enough to go through mainstream public education but he lacked a lot of social opportunities his neurotypical peers had. At Cohome, residents break down these social barriers by forming reciprocal relationships with equal power dynamics. It erases the paternalistic behaviors that can come naturally in some settings.
What is it like to live in a Cohome?
Well, I actually was a residential advisor for eight months. I had fun living with people who were different from me, who I wouldn’t necessarily meet in my own trajectory day to day. It forced me out of my social bubble into a living environment that’s much more diverse.
But in general, Cohome provides a floor — not a ceiling — of social engagement. Our social calendar has two to three activities per week. There are some formal activities — like a once-weekly family-style meal, house meetings and a social club — but there are many other activities that happen organically.
Residents also fill their days with work, volunteering, vocational training, education programs and day programs.
How many supportive housing facilities do you have?
We currently have three, all of which are funded by NJCC. One of our newest projects, located at 1 Maple in Morristown, is something we’ve been thinking of for a long time. It will be a four-story building with ground-floor retail and commercial space, and the operator and supportive services will work together to provide opportunities for residents with disabilities to work.
What makes Morristown an ideal place to deliver supportive housing for your work?
There are two aspects. When opening a home, we think about walkability, overlap with paratransit services and accessibility to places to work and play. Most residents don’t drive, and we don’t want them to be handicapped by lack of transportation. Creating homes like ours in inaccessible locations just adds another barrier for our residents.
What made NJCC the right partner for this project?
When we first began looking for funding, no one had ever done inclusive housing like this in the country. That made it challenging to go to traditional funders. But, working with NJCC has always been an opportunity to sit down with folks who understood and saw how important funding was.
NJCC was able to see that our project isn’t any different or riskier—it’s housing. And we pride ourselves on maintaining market-level housing. Historically, folks with disabilities don’t have the same level of autonomy of choice when it comes to housing. At Cohome, we want to reinforce that everyone should have options, regardless of disability. And that’s why we always try to appeal to the highest standards.