Journalism Alumna Launches Sunflower Hill, a Community for People with Special Needs

Journalism alumna Susan Houghton is launching Sunflower Hill, a community designed for individuals with developmental delays, including but not limited to Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and autism.

By Megan Schellong

Sunflower Hill

Within the next two years, ground will be broken for two residential communities in California that reflect the unwavering dedication of Susan (Mee) Houghton (Journalism, ‘82).

Once constructed, Sunflower Hill will be home to 75 adults — 31 in Pleasanton and 44 in Livermore — as communities designed for individuals with developmental delays, including but not limited to Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and autism.

Both the Pleasanton and Livermore city councils approved the Sunflower Hill project in spring 2017. The approval provided an avenue for Sunflower Hill to reach out to federal and state government for funding, primarily from tax credits, which are usually set aside for affordable housing projects.

In February 2018, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors also allotted $7 million in A1 Housing Bond funds to Sunflower Hill in Pleasanton.

As president of Sunflower Hill, Houghton and her board of directors have worked for six years to make the residences a reality, inspired by the words of anthropologist Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

“That’s really the epitome of what Sunflower Hill has evolved to be,” Houghton said.

Sunflower Hill will operate much like a senior living facility, including activities that support recreational, vocational and residential life.


Houghton became inspired to begin Sunflower Hill in 2012. At the time, she had been sitting in on a meeting about housing for special needs individuals, including her son, Robby, then 18.

Houghton realized that the options available to Robby at the time were either living with his parents for the rest of his life, in his own apartment — not feasible because of his low income — or in a group home with other individuals with severe disabilities. Houghton looked at the three options and said, “that’s not Robby.”

“It is a forgotten population,” Houghton said. “It is hard to talk about adults with special needs because kids with autism and Down syndrome can be cute, and society isn’t always accepting of adults with special needs as they are with kids and families.”

After several years of negotiation with both the Pleasanton and Livermore city councils, the planning commissions for historical preservation and housing commissions, Sunflower Hill was approved for a general plan amendment, zoning change and full entitlement.

Sunflower Hill is actually the third non-profit Houghton has started, after the Kern Autism Network (1997) and the Exceptional Needs Network (2001).

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