In Conversation with Darin Lounds, Executive Director of the Housing Consortium of the East Bay

Darin Lounds brings more than twenty years of experience in various capacities within the field of supportive housing. His efforts in supportive housing have focused on developing and sustaining housing for adults with developmental disabilities, homeless adults with serious mental illness and/or substance use, transition age youth, and the formerly incarcerated. In addition to serving as the Executive Director of the Housing Consortium of the East Bay, Darin is the President of the Alameda Developmental Disabilities Planning and Advisory Council and a Leadership Board member of EveryOne Home.

We are fortunate to have partnered with Darin on our Together We Can Do More initiative and work with him as members of the Lanterman Housing Alliance, where he serves as President. We collaborate regularly with Darin on advocacy and organizing initiatives around inclusive housing development and as a longtime leader in our field, we are thrilled to pick his brain in this interview.

[Darin was one of the individuals who participated in our Bay Area Together We Can Do More Initiative. He spoke often about the need for more funding to support housing for adults with I/DD.]

1) So many people in the world of disability housing are family members of someone with a disability. When and how did you get into this work?

I started as a mental health social worker supporting formerly homeless adults in the San Francisco Tenderloin many years ago. My career has been focused on providing supportive homes for people experiencing multiple challenges to attaining and sustaining housing- such as poverty, disability, trauma, criminal justice involvement, foster care system involvement, and prior institutionalization. I started working with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities when I came to HCEB in 2005. I grew up with a cousin with Down Syndrome and watched him find his way in the world- a safe place to live, fulfilling employment, friends, and family nearby. I’m thankful for being part of a movement to make a life of inclusion possible for everyone.  

2) With your work at HCEB, you've been able to see many individuals transition from institutions to community based living options.  What are the outcomes you've seen for people who've successfully made this transition?

I think the most striking outcomes have been the reduction or complete absence of “institutional” and negative behaviors. The folks living in the homes remodeled for Agnews Developmental Center and Sonoma Developmental Center transitions have daily routines based on their choices, wants, and needs. Their homes are beautiful and their staff provides excellent care. Having choices and some control over their daily lives have made the institutional behavior obsolete, and it gradually disappears. It’s ironic that these behaviors were often the rationale for keeping folks in the developmental centers- basically a self-fulfilling prophecy. We really must celebrate the end of that era.  

3) Can you tell us about some of the barriers to developing inclusive housing at scale?

Money, money, and money. It feels like there is now an agreement that the creation of inclusive housing is critical to addressing the housing needs of people with disabilities. Housing with no more than 25-33% of units dedicated to people with special needs is the current standard. This can be accomplished if financial resources and incentives (both carrots and sticks) are readily available to developers so they can include these special needs units in their market-rate and affordable projects. Achieving scale when limiting the number of units dedicated for special needs households requires that these households are included in most if not all new development. We’re a long way from this reality.  

4) What is one myth or misunderstanding about housing for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities that you'd like to dispel? 

That housing for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities must be highly specialized or unique. Housing for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities looks and feels like housing for everyone else. I challenge anyone to identify our apartment buildings (no peeking at the website!). Accessibility and affordability are largely invisible features and these features blend seamlessly within all types of housing. As long as folks have the supports they need, they can live anywhere. This applies to everyone, not just people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. 

Thank you so much for your time, Darin! We are grateful for your leadership and excited to work with you on upcoming initiatives.