Like many single women her age who live on their own, Suzanne Horton-Billard cherishes her independence.
With no one but her pet bird, Jonathon, to answer to, the 27-year-old does what she wants when she wants in her one-bedroom apartment on Maple Street in Glendale.
An epileptic, Horton-Billard was forced to follow the dictates of rigid schedules and adjust to the behavior of mentally ill roommates at the board-and-care facilities where she lived until a year ago. Now she is one of 24 tenants of Maple Park Apartments, a specially designed building where physically and developmentally disabled adults can live independently.
"It's peaceful," Horton-Billard said of her tidily furnished apartment. "You get to do basically whatever you want and the people here help each other all the time."
'Never Been So Happy'
Her mother, Carmen Horton-Billard, who was at a small party last week to celebrate the first anniversary of Maple Park Apartments, broke down in tears during a brief thank-you speech before local and federal officials.
Her daughter had been through some sad times in board-and-care facilities where mentally ill persons also lived, she said. Because she suffers from grand mal seizures, which in her case occur at least twice a week without warning and can't be entirely controlled with medicine, Suzanne can't live by herself.
Since moving to her apartment, Suzanne "has never been so happy and so fulfilled," her mother said.
The apartment complex is a cooperative effort of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, the City of Glendale and the Crippled Children's Society, the Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization that runs the building.
Maple Park is one of about 15 independent-living facilities for the disabled in Southern California, a HUD official said. It is the only one that has both physically and developmentally disabled adults; other buildings are designed for one group or the other.
The physically disabled--those with multiple sclerosis, arthritis or respiratory or other illnesses--live on the bottom floor. The developmentally disabled--those with cerebral palsy, retardation or seizure disorders--live on the upper floor. They socialize in communal areas.
The idea behind combining the groups is to have them help each other, said Susan Phipps-Carr, a housing consultant who helped put the experimental project together.
"We wanted the developmentally disabled to be like the arms and legs for the people in wheelchairs," she said. "And the people in wheelchairs could supply the cognitive ability, like when they go shopping."
Operators of the facility say the helpmate plan has been fairly successful. Although some tenants prefer to keep to themselves, others are benefiting from the arrangement.
For example, Suzanne Horton-Billard and Barbara Siegel, 35, have become fast friends since Siegel, a ground-floor tenant with muscle and spinal afflictions, went to Maple Park in October. They take walks, visit a nearby park and go shopping together--things Horton-Billard cannot do on her own because she is under doctors' orders not to leave the apartment building by herself.
"I know what it's like to be stuck inside," Siegel said, referring to her friend's confinement.
The 25-unit, brown stucco building at Maple and Everett streets was built with a $1.2-million loan from HUD and $363,000 from the City of Glendale. The city used part of its federal community development block grant funds to buy the land and landscape it.
Crippled Children's Society, which has worked with the handicapped nearly 60 years, is operating Maple Park under a 40-year loan from HUD. The agency runs seven service centers for the disabled in Los Angeles and two camp sites in Crestline and Malibu, but had never run a residential facility.
"The agency had been asked by parents for a number of years if they could begin to look at long-term housing," said Bruce Farwell, the organization's director of residential services.
Long Waiting List
About 130 people applied for 24 Maple Park apartments and there is a long waiting list. Resident managers, paid by the Crippled Children's Society, live in the 25th apartment and are on call all day for emergencies.
Rent is federally subsidized, with residents paying 30% of their monthly income. To qualify for an apartment, tenants must be between the ages of 18 and 62 and have an income of less than $10,000. All residents receive Supplemental Security Income or Social Security.
Before they came to Maple Park, many of the residents were living in less than ideal circumstances: stuck in boarding homes, dependent on parents or other relatives, or struggling on their own. One man with a severe respiratory ailment lived in his car for about six months before moving into Maple Park.