June 23, 2005

Inclusive Affordable Housing in California

Another example of Universal Design migrating back from single family dwellings into multiple family dwellings in the US -- and eventually on to the tourism and hospitality industry: University Neighborhood Apartments in Berkeley, California. One would hope that the affordable housing sector in the US, as in Brazil under Edison Passafaro, would fully embrace Universal Design as mission-critical.


People with special needs tend to be segregated into separate facilities away from their loved ones or the community at large. Counter to that trend, University Neighborhood Apartments creates an integrated community for people of all abilities through "design for all" facilities.

Affordable Housing Associates, in partnership with Hearth Homes Community Building, opens the first inclusive, affordable, universally designed residential units in the nation, University Neighborhood Apartments, in Berkeley, Calif. Universal design makes environments more usable by as many people as possible regardless of age, ability or situation without the need for adaptation or specialized design.

"We are strengthening families through universal design," remarks Susan Friedland, executive director of Affordable Housing Associates. "Now those with physical and developmental disabilities, or people living with HIV/AIDS, can make one home with their loved ones."

Located at 1721 University Avenue, University Neighborhood Apartments consists of 27 residential units, mostly two- and three-bedroom apartments, with commercial space on the ground floor. All of the apartments are reserved for low-income families. Fourteen of these are dedicated for disabled individuals and their families.

"University Neighborhood Apartments shows that affordable housing does not have to be ordinary," comments Kava Massih, principal of Kava Massih Architects. "This is a modern building with deep roots in the tradition of turn-of-the-century apartment buildings in the Bay Area."

University Neighborhood Apartments joins other notable Bay Area universal-design projects currently in development, including the Ed Roberts Campus at the Ashby BART station, designed by Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects (expected completion 2007-08).

Common universal-design features include one-story living, wide doorways and hallways, extra floor space to allow for a large turning radius, push/pull lever faucets for those with limited hand strength, and roll-in showers.

North Carolina State University's School of Design advocates seven principles that may be applied to universal design:

  • Principle One: Equitable Use

  • The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities.

  • Principle Two: Flexibility in Use

  • The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities

  • Principle Three: Simple and Intuitive Use

  • Use of the design is easy to understand, regardless of the user's experience, knowledge, language skills or current concentration level.

  • Principle Four: Perceptible Information

  • The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user's sensory abilities.

  • Principle Five: Tolerance for Error

  • The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.

  • Principle Six: Low Physical Effort

  • The design can be used efficiently and comfortably and with a minimum of fatigue.

  • Principle Seven: Size and Space for Approach and Use

  • Appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation and use regardless of user's body size, posture or mobility.

Toolworks, a Bay Area agency that provides resources for independent living, will administer case management, life skills instruction, and assistance with employment and personal support to tenants with disabilities. Hearth Homes will conduct programs designed to integrate the residents with each other and the community at large.

Affordable Housing Associates has been building affordable homes in the Bay Area since 1993.

Posted by rollingrains at June 23, 2005 03:22 PM