Urban Land Institute (ULI) has awarded ULI Arizona the top national ULI District Council Impact Award for the Council’s groundbreaking work since 2004 addressing the residential needs and options for adults with autism, through partnership with the Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC), First Place AZ and Arizona State University (ASU), and culminating in the upcoming groundbreaking for First Place-Phoenix.

In 2004, ULI Arizona convened a technical assistance panel (TAP) in support of SARRC to explore housing opportunities for adults with autism. The TAP engaged a vast array of land use and real estate professionals, most especially the expertise of low-income housing developers, lenders specializing in tax credits, nonprofit agencies and city planners.

Leveraging the results of the initial TAP, the ULI Arizona and SARRC partnership was expanded to include the ASU Stardust Center. Based on the TAP recommendations, a ULI Arizona-SARRC Steering Committee was formed to direct further research. The passion of ULI members, SARRC staff and volunteers, the skills afforded by ASU and the financial support of the ULI Foundation and the Pivotal Foundation resulted in the 2009 publication, “Opening Doors: A Discussion of Residential Options for Adults Living with Autism and Related Disorders.”

This report assessed the options and best practices in the industry based on the identification of more than 100 properties serving developmentally disabled, physically disabled and other special needs populations.  The study recognizes that best practices must be scalable, replicable and able to be developed within the fabric of communities, near families, friends and the comfort of familiar places and faces. From this initial survey, further research was conducted with a particular focus on the design elements, setting forth 10 specific design goals and guidelines.

A second ULI Arizona TAP conducted in 2009 utilized a panel of diverse industry experts to evaluate the data collected for Opening Doors with a focus on its application in the execution of a financially viable, scalable model. Further, a 2009 ULI Arizona Capital Markets Panel was convened to review and assess the research and evaluate strategic options.

“Opening Doors proposed actionable steps that address the increasing demand for supportive housing and communities, which have the power to maximize independent living,” said Joe Blackbourn, president and CEO of Everest Holdings, and former ULI Arizona District Council chair. “Today, we’re seeing the results of taking those steps, with the upcoming groundbreaking for First Place-Phoenix.”

First Place-Phoenix is the inaugural property of First Place AZ, a nonprofit organization advancing innovative residential options for adults with autism and other special abilities, which is affecting transformational impact on how society approaches housing and community development for individuals with different abilities. First Place AZ is a sister-nonprofit to SARRC, and is founded by SARRC co-founder Denise D. Resnik. Led by market principles, First Place is creating replicable residential and post-secondary education models that promote collaboration among the private, public and nonprofit sectors, and serve as catalysts for advancing public policy focused on housing solutions for special populations.

First Place-Phoenix, which is breaking ground Dec. 6, will feature three main components:

  • First Place Apartments: 56 apartments (studio, one-, two- and four- bedroom units) for lease by residents, supported by a suite of independent living services and amenities
  • First Place Transition Academy: A two-year, tuition-based residential training program for participants, focused on independent living skills, career readiness and interpersonal relations and situated at First Place-Phoenix in year one and off-site in year two.
  • First Place Leadership Institute: A national training center for professionals, direct service support providers and medical personnel, and robust site for research and public policy advancements

“The impact of ULI Arizona in helping us research and find long-term, replicable residential solutions for adults with autism is immeasurable,” said Resnik. “I’m thrilled the ULI Global office has chosen to award its highest district council honor to all of those involved in this groundbreaking work that will improve the lives of adults with autism and other special abilities and their families for generations to come.”

“This journey truly embodies the philosophy of creating and sustaining thriving communities, and is a tangible demonstration of the power of partnerships and the heights that can be attained when you tackle them together,” said Steve LaTerra, managing director, Meyers Research, and chair, ULI Arizona District Council. “The ULI Arizona District Council is proud to participate in such a rewarding and impactful endeavor – a legacy on which to build and grow.”