Pima Inclusive Home Design Rules Benefit Community

Posted on June 18, 2002 | Type: In the News | Author: Tom Jenney
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There is a popular recipe one can use when the facts don't support your conclusion. Take fear of change, add a peck of misinformation, stir in a dash of hypothetical scenarios and voil! The result, of course, is the same tired, indigestible propaganda.

This is the tactic Tom Jenney used in his May 2 guest column to attack Pima County's Inclusive Home Design Ordinance. As it turns out, however, the reality is that this ordinance is a vital ingredient to addressing the needs of our community.

With the passage of the Inclusive Home Design Ordinance, the Board of Supervisors is to be commended for recognizing the importance of planning for the future. As our population ages, the need for nursing home services will increase. Pima County's population of persons over 65 will double by 2025.

Statistics indicate 50 percent in this age group will spend some time in a nursing home. Pima County taxpayers currently spend more than $100 million each year for nursing home costs, and the board understands that without innovative approaches to keep people independent and in their homes for as long as possible, these costs could eventually bankrupt the county.

A recent Sunday Business article discussed the changes local builders should make to accommodate the needs of the coming wave of baby boomers and their desire to age in place. In that article, local builder and member of the National Association of Homebuilder's senior housing advisory committee, Greg Miedema, is quoted as saying, "People want to make their home comfortable now when they are 40, so they don't have to be remodeled when they are 50, 60, 70."

What the Inclusive Home Design Ordinance does is provide a platform of minimum accessibility features in all new homes, recognizing that adding these features to a home as it is being constructed is far less costly than retrofitting an existing home. These features include:

  • One zero-step entry anywhere into the home. The door to this entry is required to be 32" minimum. Current building codes require builders to install at least one 36" entry door.
  • Thirty-two-inch-wide interior doors with easy-open hardware.
  • Reinforcement behind the walls of the bathroom for possible future installation of grab bars Molded fiberglass shower surrounds are excluded from this provision.
  • Light switches set no higher than 48 inches (industry standard). Electrical outlets set 15 inches above the floor - 3 inches higher than current standards.

The provisions of this ordinance are phased in over a year, and waivers are available for difficult topographical conditions.

In separate studies, two independent professional cost estimators determined that these features would add no more than $100 to the cost of a new home built in Pima County. This is borne out by the experience of Austin, Texas, where builders have been incorporating these features in their homes for the past three years. There, they have found that the costs are averaging an additional $200 per home.

By contrast, the renovations Jenney describes having to make to his home to allow access for persons with mobility impairments clearly illustrates just how isolated the elderly and disabled are in our community. The tragedy of this situation is compounded by the fact that it is so unnecessary, when, for a minimal cost, we can begin to address the inaccessible housing infrastructure in our community.

While Jenney contends these features would only benefit a small percentage of the population, the reality is they will have broad benefits throughout the community, from caregivers, to those wishing to age in place, to parents with baby strollers.

At a recent conference of the National Association of Homebuilders, the executive director of the American Association of Retired Persons, Bill Novelli, spoke in favor of accessible design in new home construction. He recognized that features such as those used in the Inclusive Home Design ordinance benefit everyone.

In his speech, Novelli stated that these design features do not constitute, "pleading for one generation at the expense of others ... steps at the front door pose an equal challenge to a stroller and a wheelchair."

In the end, a better recipe for building a community that addresses the long-term needs of its citizens is one based on the ingredients of creativity and innovation, rather than fear and misinformation. The Inclusive Home Design ordinance is an important part of that recipe.

William and Colette Altaffer are advocates for the disabled.

Jenney's Rejoinder:

In their guest opinion (Tuesday, June 18), William and Colette Altaffer argue that Pima County's new Inclusive Home Design rules offer "broad benefits" at little cost ($100 to $200 per home) to homebuilders. If that is the case, why is it necessary for the county to force compliance? Clearly, homebuilders believe that the costs will be higher. The Southern Arizona Home Builders Association estimated $2,400 to $4,000 per new home, for architectural design costs alone.

Costs and "broad benefits" aside, my contention was that it was wrong to force 98 percent of homebuyers to pay for the convenience of the other 2 percent. Let's assume that the Altaffers are correct that Pima County's population over 65 will double by 2025, and further assume that there is no growth in the population under 65. Is it less wrong to force 96 percent of homebuyers to pay for the convenience of the other 4 percent?

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