Habitat for Humanity of Central Iowa was recently honored with the 2015 HousingIowa Award for their work on the Ames Handicap Accessible Duplex. New homeowners of the duplex are Jason Cantonwine and Shelley Jaspering.

As Habitat for Humanity of Central Iowa (HFHCI) approached theirGolden Anniversary (50 homes of new construction) they realized there are several kinds of families in need of housing. One of them is affordable housing for families with disabilities and special health care needs.  When Shelley Jaspering and Jason Cantonwine applied to be Habitat homeowners it was a blessing for everyone.  They were both in need of affordable housing.  Both are independent and want to make a difference in the world. They know each other and they share caregivers. The duplex model made life much easier for several people. Habitat for Humanity of Central Iowa was thrilled to plan and construct a duplex in Ames for these two very deserving individuals.  Both Shelley and Jason are quadriplegic and in wheelchairs. Shelley has some use of her hands.  Jason does not.

Habitat took great care in selecting just the right location for this project. The duplex was constructed on Duff Avenue in Ames. It is located 1 ½ blocks from Mary Greeley Medical Center and also McFarland Clinic. The location is centrally located and will make things much easier for the individuals not to mention their care givers and therapists.

This particular project is different in many ways from the typical Habitat for Humanity home.  First, this project is a duplex as opposed to a single family home and secondly, significant changes have been incorporated to accommodate the disabilities of the two Habitat homeowners.  For instance, rather than needing just one standard tub/shower unit, for this project we installed two bathrooms with several disability accommodations.  The shower accommodations include a zero entry and allow the homeowner to roll into the shower in their wheelchair. This makes things much easier for the homeowner and also their caregiver. All light switches and outlets are at a lower level. Mirrors and cabinets/counters are also at a lower level.  Shelley was especially excited about the kitchen. Counter and cabinets are lower along with a stove top that will allow her to do some of her own cooking. Touch faucets are also allowing her more independence. The flooring is very durable and allows ease with movement for their wheelchairs. Zero entry doors and ramps allow them access and independence they have not known for quite some time. Even the breaker box is installed lower to allow them independence and access.

In his previous apartment Jason had given up some of his therapy because he did not have room to store or use some of his needed equipment.  Now his bedroom is large enough to accommodate the needed equipment.  His caregivers have the space to work with him on his much needed therapy. This along with storage area on the main level and the basement storage area allows for needed equipment storage.

Another difference is that a number of Habitat projects are homes without basements. This project incorporates a basement “unit” to provide a living space for the live-in caregivers.  This not only is a safety need but a privacy need for both individuals.

After Family Selection conducted the approval process the local Habitat group eagerly started working with local architect, John Lott and Jennifer Evans.  Benjamin Design Collaborative began the process of planning the duplex. There were many hurdles. The lot on Duff is in the Historic District of Ames. This presented several issues but everyone wasconvinced it was the right location for the project. Habitat and Benjamin Design Collaborativeworked closely with the City of Ames to assure codes and guidelines were followed. This took extra time but was worth the effort.

Oncethe plan was in place it became a financial need.  Habitat was very fortunate to apply for and receive the State Housing Trust Fund Grant for $50,000.00. This grant allowed them to begin the amazing journey with Shelley and Jason. Along with this valuable grant came a partnership with ABC (Associated Builders and Contractors of Iowa). Shelley’s dad is an electrician and belongs to ABC.  As planning progressed, ABC made the duplex their build project for the year.  Because of this the duplex project received many hours of in-kind donations for labor and materials.

The numbers of families in need of affordable housing continues to grow across the country. The duplex project helps to address the great need of affordable housing in our area.  It also addresses the even greater need of decent affordable housing for individuals with special health care needs and disabilities. The project will allow caregivers to stay with the partner family. It will also allow them independence and easy access to their home along with a greater ease of getting around in their wheelchairs.  Something neither had in their existing apartments. Both Shelley and Jason hold jobs but their living conditions were making it hard to meet time constraints with their caregivers and their jobs. Now both are looking forward to giving back to the community. Recently we held an open house to the public to show others with similar disabilities simple ways to make accommodations. Future events are in the works.

The project definitely improves the lives and opportunities fortwo families.  It will also allow Habitat for Humanity of Central Iowa to move into a new phase of helping those in need.  The local Habitat had never tackled a project such as this before.  It involved many city, state, and Habitat International leaders and we are very grateful for the assistance given to us. Diligent work with the local architect and contractors on simple accommodations that will make life so much easier for both homeowners. Many of which will be life changing for them.  Both individuals have let Habitat know what a positive difference this has made in their lives.

HFHCI has always maintained that the main goal of Habitat is to build simple decent, affordable homes for families in need in our area. And each year Habitat strives to increase the number of families served. Now they have added another goal: decent affordable housing for those with special health care needs.   Much of what was learned during the duplex build can be used in future projects. Habitat is thrilled to be able to partner with state and local agencies, volunteers, contractors, churches to assist families in need.  The focus of Habitat’s ministry is not simply the construction of houses, but the development and empowerment of people and communities. Habitat seeks to break down barriers and form partnerships among people from all walks of life.  Relationships are the most important thing Habitat builds. These projects bond communities together by involving people from all walks of life working together for the good of the family.  It is a joy to see.  Habitat is delighted to be a part making a dream a reality for area families.