Society Matters | Hillside House Reveals 168 Unit Mixed-Use Housing Project at Garden Party 

Rising Labor Costs and Prices Are Challenging for Nonprofit

Ruth Rassler, President/CEO Michael Rassler, and Director of Grants/Special Projects Cheryl Sweeney | Credit: Gail Arnold

On September 25, Hillside House (HH) hosted a garden party friend-raiser to introduce the nonprofit, which is a residential facility for 59 adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), to more community members and to share more details about its plan for a 168-unit integrated, mixed-abilities development on its property.

Held in the gardens of Alpha Resource Center, the event featured multiple tables staffed by HH employees, who shared with guests what Hillside is all about and where funding is needed. The Assistance League of SB, which is HH’s biggest supporter, was also present. 

HH residents have moderate to severe disabilities, a majority contend with additional serious medical conditions, 60+ percent are visually impaired, and 85 percent require wheelchairs. Hillside provides for all of their basic needs, intensive medical care, a wide range of therapies and life skills training, and plenty of recreational opportunities. It also facilitates residents’ attendance at off-site day programs, schools, and employment.

As an Intermediate Care Facility (ICF), Hillside House is primarily funded by Medi-Cal, which has not kept up with cost of living and labor cost increases. Moreover, Medi-Cal covers only the most basic of care — it does not cover the specialty medical care, supportive therapies, and skills-training HH offers. 

Financial constraints mean there are four residents per room, with hospital-like curtains separating their areas. A small endowment provides only nominal revenue, leaving Hillside dependent on the community for funding. 

The biggest challenge, according to President & CEO Michael Rassler, is hiring and retaining professional healthcare staff because HH must compete with Sansum, Cottage, and other healthcare providers, who are able to offer more attractive compensation. Rassler stresses that HH needs quality professionals who are trained in best practices to care for residents and help residents become the best that they can be.

Fortunately, HH does offer staff non-financial benefits, Rassler related — a beautiful property, residents who are fun and eager to learn, an engaging staff, and everyday interactions with residents that are inspiring. “We are a big family that really loves and cares about each other.”

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HH is moving forward with its long-envisioned Community Project, which will bring it into compliance with a Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ (CMS) mandate to transition I/DD individuals from institutionalized facilities to integrated community settings.  

In an interview, Rassler revealed that on its wholly-owned 24-acre property in Hidden Valley, HH plans to build 168 new housing units, which will include 6 duplexes for 60 adults living with I/DD. The remainder will be a variety of market rate, low-income, and senior housing. The 168 units are allowed under current zoning and bonus density allowance provisions. 

HH is presently working with architects and developers and anticipates revealing more details early next year. A capital campaign will include not only development costs, but also a long-term repair and maintenance fund and a daily operating fund.  

Rassler envisions a truly integrated, mixed-abilities neighborhood that will benefit HH’s residents by housing them in state-of-the-art adaptive homes and integrating them in the community. A historic home on the property, Harmony House, will be refurbished to function as an education center for the developmentally disabled and to house friends and family visiting HH residents.

The project’s benefit, however, will extend far beyond its residents by providing critically needed housing for seniors, low-income individuals, and others. HH plans to make some of its facilities and services available to its new neighbors, including its aquatic therapy pool and its walking/biking paths. Rassler sees possibilities to serve the new senior community with its commercial laundry and kitchen facilities and sees volunteer possibilities for seniors and others at HH. The project, Rassler hopes, will serve as a model for other ICFs in their transition out of institutionalized care to meet the federal mandate.

Rassler sees HH’s job as providing each resident with the best opportunity to live their fullest lives while maximizing their independence and personal choices, and enhancing their ability to engage in community life, however they choose. He is grateful to the community for their support and noted with approval the shifting views here and across the nation, with the Black Lives Matter movement and a host of other movements thankfully leading to disability rights mattering as never before.

HH welcomes volunteers for fundraising and for working with residents. 

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Boardmembers Dr. Kirk Gilbert, John Demkowski, and Norris Goss (vice chair) | Credit: Gail Arnold
Boardmembers and Event Committee Members Lisa Wilcox and Nancy Werner.  Wilcox is also a HH resident’s parent. | Credit: Gail Arnold
Gail Campanella and Boardmember John Campanella | Credit: Gail Arnold
Lead Skills Development Specialist Ana Laura Trejo and Director of Nursing Nonye Ogoamaka | Credit: Gail Arnold


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