Housing Basics

For most families the biggest, and most important, financial decision they will make will be choosing where to live. There are many factors that must be considered when choosing a home. Cost, own or rent, the location, accessibility to community services, interior features, condition of the home, etc.

The location of your home is important but more important is the home itself. This is where families spend the majority of their time. Many families find themselves “making do” with homes that do not meet the needs of every family member and, therefore, not meeting the needs of the family as a whole. The majority of homes within budget range for budget strapped families are generally older homes with rooms that are too small, too dark, too low and awkward for furniture and equipment. Newer tract homes have many of the same problems. Small, elevated entrances and a lack of accessible walkways or stairs are another major shortfall in the construction process. Our living spaces are still some of the most difficult spaces to navigate. Finding a cost effective accessible home in today’s market is a very real challenge.

 Currently there is no legislation regulating accessible or universal housing design for single family dwellings. Unfortunately the Fair Housing Act (FHA) http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/housing/housing_coverage.htm only addresses multiple housing units and does nothing to promote the same standards for single family homes. This means the Fair Housing Act only addresses housing provided in apartment complexes, designated group homes and other “public” types of housing. This is not to be confused with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)  http://www.ada.gov/pubs/ada.htm  which was originally designed for public and commercial spaces. Again, nothing is said about single family dwellings. This leaves a lot of room by builders for interpretation.

Given there is no specific standard for single family home construction most architects, drafters, and builders will reference both the FHA and the ADA for basic standards but these cannot be enforced by municipalities as single family dwellings were not included in either act in their present form. This makes finding a home a big problem for families with disabled family members or who would like to age in place without large remodels later on. As of this writing there are no proposed amendments or legislation addressing single family dwellings in sight.

There is also the problem of new equipment technology. Mobility aids (wheelchairs, walkers, ceiling lifts, etc.) have changed drastically over the last 20 years, and will continue to do so. The space needed to maneuver the newer equipment varies from individual to individual as most technology is now “custom made” for the individual user.

Many inroads have been made in recent years to Accessible/Universal home design but there is still a long way to go with regards to truly accessible housing. Current thought among most builders is if a home has a bathroom and kitchen that meets ADA requirements, an exterior ramp and a wide front door, the home must be wheelchair accessible. What has not been taken into consideration is that people with physical disabilities live in other rooms of the house as well.  Even today it is almost impossible to locate a builder or contractor who truly understands Universal Design and the effect it has on the occupants.

The majority of accessibility issues are generally viewed from the perspectives of a mostly independent adult using a self-propelled manual wheelchair or an elderly individual/couple suffering the effects of old age. Readily available house plans currently on the market are designed specifically for adults or empty nesters with no children. Even less thought has been given to family living. Every family member needs to be able to access every room in the home without difficulty.