The Fair Housing Act requires access features in all new multi-family dwellings. But most people live in single-family homes. In spite of the increase in high-rise residences, the majority of new homes are single-family detached houses and attached row houses. Nearly all of these are built with no access features.
The current norm for new, detached single- family houses, or attached single-family row houses: Steps at all entrancesNarrow bathroom doors Estimate: At least 98% of new houses are built with these two major barriers.
Detrimental results of the no-access status quo: Isolation-- Barriers in the homes friends and extended family cut off connections for people of all ages who develop mobility impairments Sub Standard Housing In seemingly attractive homes, many residents cant pass through their own bathroom doors. Exhausted Caregivers, carrying people up unnecessary entry steps and carrying bedpans through unnecessarily narrow bathroom doors. Costly retrofits More expensive by ten- fold or fifty-fold than proper construction up front. Increased Institutionalization. Exclusion of people from communities.
Unfortunately, New Urbanism has been a part of the problem rather than the solution. Direct observation and images in publications/ websites indicate that New Urbanists typically design and build with no regard for sufficiently wide interior doors, nor for zero-step entrances… except in the building types where they are forced by law, or in projects such as Hope VI where the funders mandate access. Typically, New Urbanists do not educate others on this issue knowledgably and effectively. It is missing from the agenda as designers and developers actively continue building the barriers.
Missed Opportunities: The builder of twelve new houses high on a hill…... which are served by a shared alley…,,..,,.. …built unnecessary barriers at all three entrances. 1. Step from garage to house. 2. Step from sidewalk to back patio. 3. Step from sidewalk to front porch.
What will it take to address this? Intention and Attention within CNU leadership and practitioners to bring about a rapid, widespread change of practice.
The most essential features One zero-step entrance on an accessible route at the back, side or front of the house, or through the garage All main floor interior passage doors with 32 inches clear passage space. At least a half-bathroom with basic maneuvering space on the main floor.
Some construction facts about… Steep lots Basements Exemptions Town Houses
When planned from the beginning of the design and construction process, a zero-step entrance works on steep lots as well as flat lots. All of the ten houses on the steep property above, near Atlanta, have a zero-step entrance. The five houses along the high side of the property have no steps at the front, but several at the back. Approached via a shared alley, the five houses on the low side of the property have no steps at the back, and have several steps at the front.
Zero step entrances are easy for houses built on concrete slabs, but they are also feasible and cost-effective for houses with basements. This is one of several thousand Visitable homes in Bolingbrook, IL near Chicago – all with basements.
All effective Visitability mandates and voluntary practices provide exemptions from the zero-step feature for impractical site conditions. For example, this property is steep, AND has no driveway, AND has no back alley approach. It is not practical for a zero-step entrance.
A word about town houses Zero-step entrances on new town houses with short set-backs are feasible. Many urban townhouses from earlier centuries had at-grade entries, such as this one in New York City.
Why not focus on the 95+ percent that ARE practical? 95%
Added privacy can be achieved with walls, gates, plants, and other creative design.
Homes above stores? Seek alternatives to the automatic practice of inaccessible, unVisitable townhouses above stores. A deep balcony could connect many units, served by an elevator and staircases… Similar to the balcony above, but deeper and sub- divided between houses by shallow privacy walls. Rather than town houses, the Visitable, livable homes above are one-story flats, eight units on each of two levels. The developer said they sold surprisingly well. If the extra costs of elevators and more extensive fire codes are an issue, costs could be offset by a third level of flats, still comprising a low-rise building.
Some local ordinances from across the US have produced thousands of Visitable housesnot special houses but houses for general buyers on the open market. Pima County AZ -- 15,000+ San Antonio TX –7,000+ Austin TX – 2,700+ Bolingbrook IL – 3,600+
Sample HousesAtlanta GA (Note the short ramps tying to back porches in the two houses above.)
Cost of basic access features New houses that include the basic access features have proven to be very affordable: Typically less than $100 additional cost for houses built on a concrete slab. Typically $500 or less for houses built over basements. These low costs are not theoreticalthey represent experience in over 30 thousand houses.
Increased institutionalization More than 90 % of people over 50 say they want to remain in their current home and community. 1 Cost of nursing homes per person per year: $62,000. 2 Percent of this cost borne by the public dollar: 64% 3 60 per cent of nursing home residents enter directly from a hospital. 4
Sources: 1 AARP, 2006 2 Genworth Financial Cost of Care Survey, March 2006 3 Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured, "Medicaid and Long-Term Care," May 2004 4 Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Minimum Data Sets, 2005
Visitability You can fight it or you can rock out to it. Hairspray, 2007
Change within CNUwithin each new built development and within the organization-- will occur or not according to your intention and attention.