Kate Santich / Orlando Sentinel
© Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/TNS/Getty Images Jill Bonn, left, talks with her daughter Erica Bonn about Erica’s moving into the new Quest Village, an independent-living community for adults with developmental disabilities, in east Orlando on…
ORLANDO — Jill Bonn nervously helped her only child box up her belongings late last week as the young woman prepared to move from the family’s Longwood home into her own one-bedroom apartment in Orlando.
“I’ve been having anxiety since before Christmas,” Bonn said. “And now that we’re packing, it’s like, ‘Oh, God this is happening.’ I’ll call her, but she probably won’t answer me. She might answer a text if I’m lucky.”
Though Bonn’s daughter, Erica, is 27, such a leap wasn’t always a certainty. Erica has Asperger syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism.
Her new home is Quest Village — 48 one-bedroom, one-bath cottage-style apartments in east Orange County strictly for adults with developmental disabilities capable of living on their own. The affordable housing project is the first of its kind in metro Orlando, and there are only four similar developments throughout the state, all opened within the past two years.
Though each complex operates a little differently, at Quest Village residents are largely independent, with a range of fee-for-service options that can help them with housekeeping, personal hygiene, meal planning, transportation to doctor appointments, or handling prescriptions.
The services range from $200 to $2,400 a month — on top of the sliding-scale rent of $379 to $597 a month — though some residents don’t require any extra help and others will need it only in the beginning.
“Most of the other projects in the state have on-site food service and on-site planned activities throughout the day,” said John Gill, president and CEO of Quest, Inc., an Orlando-based nonprofit that helps people with developmental disabilities learn, work, live and socialize. “Ours is more like a traditional apartment complex, but we will have coaching and support staff on site,” including at least one staff member who stays around the clock.
It’s not a solution for everyone, and some parents who thought their adult children were capable have been turned away after screening. Applicants must pass a two- to three-hour evaluation in which they’re asked to demonstrate the ability to perform simple chores and make sound decisions — ensuring they can live with limited oversight and handle emergencies.
Affordable housing options for people with developmental disabilities are rare, and Gill expects the apartments to rent quickly, given growing demand. Sixteen units filled within the first two weeks in December.
The 5-acre, $12-million village is set between two houses of worship along Woodbury Road, not far from the University of Central Florida and within walking distance of bus stops, retail shopping, health care and movie theaters. It features an expansive, upscale clubhouse with big-screen TVs, a full kitchen, game room, gym, and computer stations with Wi-Fi.
Outside, there’s a raised garden bed, a basketball court and an exercise path. Each 750-square-foot apartment has its own washer and dryer, porch and walk-in closets.
“It’s beautiful — just the whole facility, the support, people being here on site,” Jill Bonn said. “It feels safe, and I think safety is the biggest thing, especially when you have a child with a disability.”
Erica, an enthusiastic gardener, was particularly impressed with the chance to plant herbs and vegetables.
“We’ve been looking for a while,” she said. “We saw a few places, but none of them really had the unique charm of this place.”
Though Erica might have lived in a typical apartment with frequent visits from her mom, Quest Village offers training in independent living and, more importantly to Jill, the chance for her daughter to socialize with other young adults like her. Making friends hasn’t always been easy.
“Sometimes we on the autism spectrum get treated like we’re carrying some kind of disease,” Erica said.
She has a high school diploma, volunteers at a library, is applying for jobs and knits prolifically, even launching her own business, Autistically Crafted, which sells handmade goods at art fairs and online. She hopes to find a day job in an office.
For her parents, the move alone is an accomplishment. “When Erica was growing up, there were so many things I thought she’d never do — and then she did them,” Jill said. “So now I try not to think that.”
If the arrangement goes well, both for Erica and other residents, Gill expects there will be a Quest Village 2 down the road, given the increasing number of adults with development disabilities.
“We already provide services to people living in traditional apartment complexes within the community, but sometimes what we find is that these individuals may feel isolated. They may feel lonely,” he said. “Their neighbors may look out for them, but they’re not inviting them over to have pizza. … Here, residents feel welcome.”