February 13, 2007

A Major Endorsement of Visitability in US Housing

The U.S. Green Building Council has taken a major step in changing the face of the built residential market in the US with the "Universal Accessibility" designation for residential communities seeking LEED certification. Major, but still leaving an 80% inaccessible remainder for developers who take the minimalist approach.

LEED, a project of the U.S. Green Building Council, has achieved widespread success certifying commercial buildings as environmentally friendly when they meet specified requirements. Now LEED, with its new pilot program LEED-ND, has moved beyond commercial buildings to whole neighborhoods.

Notably for people in the home access movement, LEED-ND awards a point
for developments that build single-family homes with basic access.

(Single family homes are the main building type still built by the
hundreds of thousands with no access features, continuing the age-old
barriers that impose drudgery and social isolation.) It is
encouraging that people are beginning to see that Visitability is
connected to green building practices
. Basic access at the time of
construction decreases the waste of energy and materials necessitated
by retrofits, and makes neighborhoods more sustainable by enabling
social interaction, "aging in place," and disability inclusion.

To receive the "Universal Accessibility" point, the builder includes,
in at least 20% of the single-family homes, the features required
by federal law in apartment buildingsĀ—
--a zero step entrance on an
accessible route, wide interior doors, maneuvering space in bathrooms
and kitchens, blocking in bathroom walls to allow future grab bars,
reachable electrical controls, and a step-free path of travel through
the first floor of the home.

The application document reads in part:


Enable the widest spectrum of people, regardless of age or ability, to
more easily participate in their community life by increasing the
proportion of areas that are usable by people of diverse abilities.


For projects with residential components:

For each residential unit type developed, design 20% (and not less than
one) of each type to comply with the accessible design provisions of
the Fair Housing Amendments Act (FHAA) and Section 504 of the
Rehabilitation Act (Rehabilitation Act), as applicable. Separate
residential unit types include: single-family, duplex, triplex,
multi-unit row or townhouses, and mixed-use buildings that include
residential units. (Compliance for multi-family buildings of 4 or more
units is already a regulatory requirement.)
Eleanor Smith of Concrete Change and Ed Steinfeld of the IDEA
Center at SUNY, Buffalo, were among those working on the committee to
bring this about. Not all their recommendations were followed, but
they welcome this early recognition that basic access is green.

The LEED-ND initiative is a joint venture of the Congress for the New
Urbanism, the US Green Building Council, and the Natural Resources
Defense Council. To read the LEED-ND document, go to
To read about the point awarded for houses with basic access, go to
page 83.

Posted by rollingrains at February 13, 2007 07:28 PM