At the Freeholder Meetings of August 12th and 15th, we received presentations from Tim Doherty, Executive Director of Project Freedom. As I outlined in my Freeholder Director's Annual Message of 2002, Project Freedom is an independent living alternative, which at present operates several sites in Mercer County. These sites offer accessible housing opportunities in completely barrier-free apartments for those that are physically challenged. For many, such an independent living opportunity is an alternative to extended nursing care, which may not be necessary and may be excessively costly. I believe that it is important for us to consider affordable and accessible housing opportunities for the residents of Middlesex County.

The Project Freedom sites in Mercer County have the appearance of garden apartments with a neighborhood feel and are extremely well- maintained and almost fully occupied. I am told that no one has voluntarily left one of the complexes that has not eventually returned. During our visits we spoke with a number of residents, who seemed well-pleased with the facility and with the opportunity provided for independent living.

Project Freedom complexes require very minimal financial investments from County Government, although they would require a suitable site of sufficient size where public transportation is readily available. I realize that the Project Freedom model is not the only alternative in a continuum of housing opportunities for the disabled, but I believe it is one that is worth looking into. Given conversations we have had with representatives of Project Freedom, the Middlesex County Department of Human Services and members of the county Commission for Persons with Disabilities, I believe that the Project Freedom organization would be amenable to the possibility of establishing a mixed-use complex, which would avoid the perception of segregation resulting from a housing complex, which is strictly limited to the disabled.

I am proposing that the Board approve a resolution establishing an advisory committee consisting of professional staff, individuals with disabilities, representatives from Project Freedom, and advocates for the disabled, to study the best potential mix for integrated housing options using the Project Freedom model as a starting point. Tom Seilheimer, Director of the County Department of Human Services has spoken to proposed advisory board members to ensure that they are willing to serve. Appointment of the members of the advisory group, to be named The Middlesex County Accessible Independent Living Housing Advisory Committee, is before the Board tonight. The list of proposed members includes representatives from County DHS, Cerebral Palsy Association of Middlesex County, Alliance for the Disabled in Action, Commission for Persons with Disabilities, Personal Assistance Services Program, State Development Disabilities Council, and Project Freedom, among others.