For a while, Andy Rosenthal was satisfied with his career. “I was selling software to hedge funds and doing great. We had a kid, a dog, and a condo.”
But he became disillusioned and wanted more meaning in his professional and personal life. “Selling software to help hedge funds make more money doesn’t have an altruistic, positive effect on the world,” he said.
So in 2016, Rosenthal, DMSB’07, his brother-in-law, and their wives co-founded The Terebinth Group, the largest, family-owned provider of housing to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, or I/DD, in Indiana. The Indianapolis-based company owns and operates 68 high-quality homes worth about $9 million, which provides housing for more than 225 individuals throughout the state.
“In short, we find homes, fix them up, customize them to suit the tenants—think wheelchair accessibility, replacing door knobs with door levers, waterproof flooring, installing roll-in showers, etc.—and then rent them directly to the individuals,” he said. “We’re a real estate company focused on providing quality, safe, affordable housing to a vulnerable community. These people simply don’t have the same level of access to a home that I would live in myself.”
A look at the numbers shows how important the company’s work has become. According to one study (Braddock, et al, Coleman Institute and Department of Psychiatry, University of Colorado, 2014) cited by Rosenthal, approximately 6,000 I/DD individuals in Indiana will need housing in 2019. And when you look at the number of individuals living with family caregivers, which can be a tremendous burden on families, it becomes clear that the housing challenge will become even more critical in the near future.
The biggest issue is baby boomers aging.
In Indiana, an estimated 74,000 or 71 percent of individuals with I/DD live with a family caregiver, and 24 percent live with a caregiver at least 60 years old, according to that same study.
“The biggest issue is baby boomers aging,” said Rosenthal, who believes there will be an “epidemic of individuals needing a place to live” when boomers become too old to properly care for their disabled adult children.
Demand is also very high for other individuals living in nursing homes and group homes, according to Kim Dodson, executive director of Arc of Indiana, which helps people with I/DD realize their goals of living, learning, and fully participating in the community. “Many of those people want to move out into homes that are more accommodating and allow them greater independence,” she said.
One such case involves Millie, a woman with developmental disabilities whose behavior and development were regressing in a nursing home, according to her advocate Gina Borneman. “Andy and Terebinth Group worked directly with us to get Millie out of a place where she was not receiving the level of care she needed and into a home,” said Borneman. “We all worked together to find the right roommates and area. I have never seen a landlord do this.”
For these clients, having a place to really call home can be invaluable to their quality of life, self-esteem, and rehabilitation. “Millie is home,” said Borneman. “She’s once again walking with a walker instead of using a wheelchair. She goes to church, to dances, and to her favorite stores. She’s taking an art class and went to the [Indiana] State Fair. Her life is rich and full.”
According to Dodson, more challenges revolve around finances and location of affordable and accessible housing. “We get so many complaints and concerns from families that affordable, accessible housing is only available in the worst areas of our cities and towns.”
If there were 10 other competitors, we wouldn’t even be scratching the surface.
That’s where The Terebinth Group comes in. The company works with case managers, care service providers, and organizations like Arc to identify up to four people per house who have ties to a certain location based on proximity of their families, stores, places of worship, and available educational and job opportunities. The houses are renovated to accommodate disabilities, and each person has his or her own bedroom. Because Indiana no longer has state-run mental health institutions, privately run healthcare companies provide the necessary in-home care.
“If there were 10 other competitors, we wouldn’t even be scratching the surface,” said Rosenthal. The company has more orders for homes than it has capital for, and it is now working on securing a $5 million loan that could help purchase approximately 45 additional properties.
All of Terebinth’s homes are located in Indiana, but Rosenthal said the company plans to expand into Ohio and possibly beyond. He also told the story behind the name of the company.
“In the Old Testament, there were three wanderers in the desert who stumbled into the town where Abraham was living. He saw that these people were in dire need, took them into his house, and cared for them like family. The town was named Terebinth,” said Rosenthal.
“It illustrated the themes of what we wanted to do.”