April opening set for 2nd South Portland congregate home

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SOUTH PORTLAND — A second privately funded home for intellectually disabled adults – a place that will allow children to lead the lives they’ve always wanted, the parents of two residents said – is expected to open mid-April on E Street.

Mary Chris Semrow, one of the parents who initiated the project, is part of a group that worked for years to expand the care offered at 20 E St. to the house next door, at 14 E St. Her daughter, Anna Bulger, 29, has autism and has lived at 20 E St. for eight years.

Semrow said her daughter has grown enormously since becoming a resident of the home, independently completing errands, such as banking and grocery shopping, as well as reading to a woman at an elderly care facility each week – things Semrow said she couldn’t imagine doing before.

Semrow has two other adult children, who attended college and are now living in Boston and New York. Anna’s independence is not only important to her, but to the family as a whole, Semrow said.

Semrow, who lives in Falmouth, works as a consultant for Massachusetts-based Specialized Housing, which developed both E Street homes and focuses on innovative congregate housing for adults with special needs. Semrow said the model of care is intended to fill a void in services offered through the state.

The arrangement provides residents with a level of supervision and autonomy that allows them to lead comparatively independent lives, she said. The clients are able to live with their peers, be employed, use public transportation and enjoy the community, while also relying on support if they need it.

The new house is owned by the residents’ families and was structured as a way to provide independent care for adults with disabilities who, for one reason or another, couldn’t get funding from the state. Both Semrow and another parent, Don Peterson, acknowledged they are fortunate to be able to provide this opportunity for their children and said they started to plan for how to care for their adult children and allow them to have independent lives.

Families buy a room in the house as if it were a piece of property. They pay between $177,000 and $222,000 for a room; the payment covers living expenses and the services of two full-time staff people.

Bulger, for example, has been on the waiting list for home support from the state since 2007. Semrow said she knew, even when her daughter was in high school, that options for supported independent living would be hard to find.

Buying rather than renting, although cost-prohibitive for some, provides a sense of security for those at the facility and their families, Semrow said.

The arrangement provides them solace.

“When she was in third or fourth grade, and people would ask her what she wanted to do when she grew up, she would say, ‘live in an apartment with a friend, and go out to the movies and out to eat.’ And shes’s doing those things,” Semrow said.

Semrow and Peterson said the Knightville neighborhood is ideal for the home, with coffee shops, stores, easy access to banks, the library and public transportation.

“It makes me want to cry, but people have come up to me to say they are so proud their neighborhood is doing this,” Semrow said of the project. ” It’s pretty remarkable.”

Peterson’s 39-year-old daughter, Meghan, will be moving into the new house this spring. As a father, he said, it’s reassuring to know his daughter is living in a safe and healthy environment with caring neighbors.

Seven of the 10 rooms in the new home have been sold or are under contract.

Residents range in age from their early 20s to 50s. Semrow said the mix allows for mentorship and example setting. Residents have sit-down dinners together each night, with everybody participating in the planning and preparation of meals. Semorw said it is an ideal time for residents to come together after a day of working, volunteering, or attending a day program.

Semrow said residents want to live with other people, and this housing provides built-in social and friend groups.

Eight years after the 20 E St. home opened, it remains the only privately funded home for intellectually disabled adults in the state.

The new facility includes an addition of about 4,300 square feet at the back of the house for more living space. A dilapidated house was purchased by families of the residents for $260,000, and the renovations total $1.2 million.

Peterson said there is a commonality that connects the families that are part of the house, with a feeling they are in this together.

Juliette Laaka can be reached at 781.3661 ext.,106 or at jlaaka@theforecaster.net.

Don Peterson, left, and Mary Chris Semrow in one of the 10 rooms of congregate housing under construction at 14 E St. in South Portland. Peterson and Semrow are parents of adult children with intellectually disabilities who will be living in the house, which is set to open in mid-April.

Construction continues at 14 E St. in South Portland, left, which is being developed on the same model as an existing building next door, at 20 E. St.

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  • Mary Chris Semrow

    Mary Chris Semrow here…A correction on the price of available units. The units are appr
    oximately $ 177,000 for the unit at 20 E Street and between $ 197,000 and $ 224,000 at 14 E Street. Do contact me for more information and view our websites http://www.specializedhousing.org and 14estreet.com. mcsemrowshi@gmail.com 207-712-0289