Creating affordable housing in high-income, suburban neighborhoods has historically been an uphill battle — which is why Mission First Housing Group took an innovative approach to their Patuxent Commons project in Columbia, Maryland. The Mid-Atlantic—based affordable housing developer partnered from the beginning with the Howard County Autism Society, a well-respected local organization, which proved to be crucial in gaining the project the community support it needed to overcome political hurdles.

“We loved having the Autism Society as a partner,” says Elizabeth Everhart, Senior Development Manager at Mission First. “They’ve been instrumental in making sure the community is informed correctly and really advocating for the project, as there are some unique approvals — It would be easy for this project to be voted down without the support of the Autism Society.”

The Autism Society in fact took the initiative to get the project off the ground, putting out an RFQ, which Mission First responded to, to build supportive housing in Howard County for adults with disabilities. The project that took shape is a 76-unit mixed-income apartment development, with 25% of units set aside to serve individuals with disabilities and promote their ability to live as independently as possible.

However, the project partners knew there would be several hurdles to overcome in the County, including a growth ordinance waiver and a special tax agreement necessary for financing the project. Additionally with Next Door very active in the area, project planners were concerned that negativity and misinformation might spread easily.

Patuxent Commons, Mission First Housing Group

Fortunately through the Autism Society’s existing relationships with City Council members and the community, they were able to inform the public and gather feedback in a grassroots, community-driven way. The Autism Society created a task force that included residents of the neighborhood who could speak with their neighbors in “front porch chats” and utilized their monthly events — often attended by City Council members — to create awareness of the project’s benefits.

Using the coUrbanize platform, project leaders collected 136 comments, 59% of which were positive and 41% neutral. “The majority of comments have been saying ‘This is such a great concept,’ or asking how they can get someone on the waitlist for the housing, such as adult children with disabilities,” says Everhart.

As a result, the City Council unanimously approved the growth ordinance waiver and special tax agreement on April 4, paving the way for the project to proceed. “The council testimony at the hearing for our waiver was really powerful,” says Everhart. “The community wants to lead the way with this project.”

Patuxent Commons is a project concept developed by the Howard County Autism Society and being execucted by Mission First Housing Group to create76 units of affordable housing, with 25% of units serving people with disabilities. Learn more about the project here.