Housing under construction for special-needs adults

Kuni Foundation is building 45-unit Stephen's Place in Vancouver

By Cami Joner, Columbian retail & real estate reporter



Stephen’s Place

What: A residential community for independent adults with developmental disabilities.

Where: 501 S.E. Ellsworth Road, Vancouver.

Developer: Vancouver-based Wayne D. Kuni & Joan E. Kuni Foundation, which supports housing and socialization for developmentally disabled adults and clinical cancer research.


After months of planning, an apartment complex for adults with developmental disabilities is under construction off East Mill Plain Boulevard and Interstate 205 in Vancouver.

The complex will be called Stephen's Place, named after a member of the Kuni family, which is financing the $12 million project through its Wayne D. Kuni & Joan E. Kuni Foundation. Already, there's a waiting list of people hoping to live in the approximately 45 units, according to Jacki Gallo, the foundation's executive director.

The strong interest is no surprise, Gallo said, since there are few facilities in the country like Stephen's Place.

"Our target resident will be someone who has the ability to live somewhat independently," she said.

The demographic faces a widening housing gap across the nation, according to Gallo, who said it's a concern for aging parents of adult children with disabilities. "As the parents age, there's no one to take care of the adult children," she said, other than home-care options in which caregivers visit the home. The option is less than ideal for social interaction, Gallo said.

"This (Stephen's Place) will provide the community feel," she said.

The foundation is aiming for a March 2014 opening for the two-story, U-shaped building, situated south of Mill Plain at 501 S.E. Ellsworth Road. It will feature two stories of approximately 45 studio- and one-bedroom apartments. It also will include an eating and commons area, a large exercise room, an activity center and computer room.

The site was designed by Portland-based C2K Architecture.

"We want to have lots of positive programs for our residents," Gallo said. She expects to include everything from art classes to practical applications, such as how to balance a bank account.

An outdoor garden area and walking paths will help keep residents active in age-appropriate activities, Gallo said.

The Kuni Foundation was started by Wayne Kuni, a Portland auto dealer who died in 2006 and left his financial assets to launch the $28.5 million nonprofit organization. Stephen's Place is named after a member of the Kuni family who died at the age of 25. Vancouver-based Kuni Automotive operates 14 dealerships in four states. The foundation funds cancer research and projects to enhance the lives of adults with developmental disabilities.

"Our biggest goal is to have a community environment for this population," Gallo said.

Her organization is working to further define the ideal resident for Stephen's Place and will have applications available soon. The waiting list is for those who have expressed an interest in the home.

Gallo said residents and their families would pay monthly fees for apartments, meals, programs and care at the private facility — costs that have not been determined yet. Plans are for Stephen's Place to be self-sustaining over time, with rent payments covering operating expenses and personnel. However, Gallo expects foundation grants will help get the facility running and staffed according to Washington state licensing requirements for assisted living facilities.

"Until we know exactly what is demanded, those (monthly rent) estimates are something we don't want to take a stab at," she said.

The Kuni Foundation's development funding should also help keep rents lower for residents, Gallo said.

"Because the Kuni Foundation is funding the building, there's no debt repayment. That takes out a very large chunk of cost that would have been distributed to the tenants," she said.

Residents who receive government disability checks and other income will not send those payments directly to the facility.

"I would assume part of the family's payment will be made from those sources, but we won't know," Gallo said.

She expects to draw residents from all over the country to Stephen's Place, with its planned programs aimed at protecting vulnerable adults while offering independence at the same time. It's a rare combination in facilities for adults with special needs, Gallo said, although there are examples, such as Casa de Amma in San Juan Capistrano, Calif.

"It hasn't been done much in the past," she said. "If not for the generous grants from the Kuni Foundation, I don't know where a facility like this would have gotten its funding."