June 21st, 2019
It’s a Tuesday morning in early May and the clubhouse at Luna Azul in north Phoenix looks less like a construction zone and more like a place to hang out. The week before, it was a different story. Crews were installing the security gate and construction equipment dotted the site.
Fast forward and parents, siblings and some future residents, including 19 year old Emma Roth, are getting a taste of what life might like when Luna Azul opens its doors.
Emma is the inspiration behind Luna Azul. Her father, Mark Roth is the developer. "I didn’t want my daughter to live in a place I wouldn’t choose to live in myself," he said. "And there is nothing like this that we found anywhere in the country."
Emma has a developmental disability. By the time she was 13, her parents became concerned about where she would live when they were gone.
They looked at several options including group homes, as well as farms and ranches, which were further out of town. The Roths even considered buying a condo.
"Our concern with that was that she was going to be isolated, that she was going to be a pariah in a condominium surrounded by typically developed folks, that she wasn’t going to get invited to the pool party," Roth explained.
Ultimately, Roth wanted ownership and control, but that meant he would have to create something out of nothing. "This is four and a half acres, it is what the architect calls a pocket neighborhood," he said. "And so there will be 30 homes here, this is the east courtyard, over there will be the west courtyard, there will be 14 homes here, 16 homes there, surrounding a large club house with a pool."
Roth is buying his daughter’s home and that’s what makes Luna Azul different from other supportive communities in the Valley like First Place or Treasure House. There you pay rent — at Luna Azul, you buy. The home Roth is buying for Emma is a little over $400,000, plus a monthly HOA of $1100, which will cover the costs of a community director, staff and maintenance of all common areas.
Despite the cost, buying appeals to a lot of families.
"So, we’re splitting it 50/50 with another family," explained Will Humble. "They also have a kid with Downs who’s about 25. So we’re splitting it and I think it’s..." he trailed off.
"Just under $400, total," said his wife, Julie Schmoker.
Their son Luke will be moving to Luna Azul later in the fall.
"What we liked about this one is that there’s a whole community of people with different kinds of disabilities and some without disabilities," said Humble.
Humble knows a lot about the available housing options for people with IDD Arizona: He’s the former director of the Department of Health Services.
"And it’s nice to have a system with the kind of flexibility that we have in Arizona, so that people can make different choices, but recognizing this is not a choice everyone can afford," he said.
And that concerns Jon Meyers, the executive director of the Arc of Arizona, a disability advocacy group.
"Personally, I don’t think it’s too much to say that we’re creating a system of haves and if not have-nots, have-lesses within the IDD world," said Meyers. "The vast majority of people who have an intellectual or developmental disability do not have those kinds of resources."
Roth disagrees. "I do not believe that I am creating the have and have-nots. I am not the panacea. There is a crisis of community of loneliness, of adults with disabilities.
There is a huge, huge national debate raging about what is an institution and what isn’t." The debate Roth is talking about requires a brief history lesson.
In 1965, then Sen. Robert Kennedy toured the Willowbrook School on Staten Island, New York, an institution for people with IDD. He was filmed. The facility eventually closed, but what it represented hasn’t been forgotten by many, including Meyers who worries these supportive communities could isolate instead of integrate.
"We simply don’t know enough right now about what the outcomes of people moving into these communities are or will be, and so we have only what we know from history to look at," explained Meyers.
But Mike Trailor, the Director of the Arizona Department of Economic Security believes fear shouldn't get in the way of progress.
"We have to innovate, we have to try new things because we’re certainly not providing the services to people with disabilities that they desperately need in a lot of cases," he said.
Many of the families moving to Luna Azul and other supportive communities know the history and they know what options exist today. For them, this is progress and choice. And for Roth, this is about crossing off the number one item on his list of things to do before, as he puts, checks out.
Luna Azul is America’s first for sale residential community for adults with disabilities. Located in North Phoenix, Arizona, Luna Azul is an intimate "pocket neighborhood" developed by Mark Roth of ECC Management, LLC.
This is not an offer to sell, nor a solicitation of an offer to buy, to residents of any state or province in which registration or other legal requirements have not ben fulfilled. Void where prohibited by law. All plans, amenities, availability, completion dates, prices, improvements and incentives are subject to change without notice. All measurements are approximate. Sales and Marketing by LaunchPAD Sales and Marketing Group/Launch Real Estate.