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October 9, 2001
HUD GRANT ENCOURAGES MODEL BUILDING CODE CHANGES TO HELP INCREASE HOUSING OPPORTUNITIES FOR PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES
WASHINGTON - The Department of Housing and Urban Development today announced it has awarded nearly $900,000 in an educational grant to help communities ensure that more apartments and condominiums are built to be accessible to people with disabilities. The grant is designed to inform the public about design and construction guidelines under the Fair Housing Act and to encourage local governments to adopt revised model building codes.
"Access to housing is critical to access to jobs and living independently," said HUD Secretary Mel Martinez. "Education about building codes is a key element in removing some of the unnecessary challenges faced daily by people with disabilities."
The $891,000 grant is going to the International Code Council (ICC). Based in Falls Church, Virginia, the ICC is a nonprofit organization that represents building code enforcement officials, architects, engineers, designers and contractors.
The ICC will work in partnership with the National Organization on Disability in a national education and outreach campaign to educate housing industry providers, builders, contractors, real estate agents, lenders; disability and fair housing advocates; and, state and local governments of the regulations and requirements of the Fair Housing Act. The grant will also be used to encourage local and state governments to adopt "model building" codes that are consistent with the Fair Housing Act and its implementing regulations.
Local governments use these model codes, developed by private organizations, as a starting point for adopting their own building and safety codes, taking into consideration needs particular to their location, such as climate or proximity to earthquake fault lines. Building inspectors for these local governments issue construction and occupancy permits based on compliance with these codes.
A HUD-commissioned study has found that if builders comply with the Fair Housing Act during construction, their dwelling-unit costs rise by only about one-half of one percent. However, remodeling a building that has already been constructed can cost a great deal more.
The Fair Housing Act, enacted in 1968, was amended in 1988 to outlaw housing discrimination against people with disabilities, among other things. In 1989, HUD issued its regulations implementing the Act's design and construction requirements to make sure that apartments and condominiums were accessible for people with disabilities, especially those who use wheelchairs. In March 1991, after consideration of extensive public comment from architects, developers, builders, persons with disabilities, and other interested groups, HUD published the "Fair Housing Accessibility Guidelines," which set forth specific guidelines for designing dwelling units consistent with the Act.
The Fair Housing Act applies to all dwelling units in apartment buildings built for first occupancy after March 13, 1991, which have an elevator and four or more units. If the building has four or more units but does not have an elevator the law applies to all ground floor units. The Act requires that:
- Public and common areas must be accessible to persons with disabilities
- Doors and hallways be wide enough for people in wheelchairs
- Routes into and through the unit be accessible
- Light switches, electrical outlets, thermostats and other environmental controls be accessible
- Bathroom walls are reinforced to allow later installation of grab bars, and
- Kitchens and bathrooms are usable by people in wheelchairs.
Since 1989, HUD has been providing education and technical assistance on the design and construction requirements of the Fair Housing Act. Many builders, however, contended that they historically rely only on their local building code requirements. Congress did not change building codes accessible design and construction requirements when it amended the Fair Housing Act. However, the legislation does require HUD to encourage state and local units of government to take steps to incorporate the Act's requirements into their building plan review process. In 1999, HUD agreed to review the nation's four model building codes for equivalency to the Act's design and construction requirements. After making suggested revisions, HUD last year endorsed the ICC's "Code Requirements for Housing Accessibility", calling it a "safe harbor" design standard for builders.
Martinez awarded the grant under HUD's National Model Codes Partnership segment of its Fair Housing Initiatives Program. Among other activities, the ICC will use the grant to conduct regional educational seminars around the country for state and local lawmakers, code enforcement officials, inspectors, architects, and engineers.
Anyone who believes they have experienced housing discrimination is asked to call HUD's Housing Discrimination Hotline at 1-800-669-9777.