Whereas, to address and protect the rights of persons with disabilities seeking accessible housing, Congress enacted the Fair Housing Act, as amended, and American with Disabilities Act.
Under the Fair Housing Act, properties ready for occupancy on or after March 13, 1991, are required to incorporate accessible design and construction features. These requirements apply to any covered multifamily residential building with four or more units. Specifically, the Fair Housing Design Manual outlines seven design and construction requirements for multifamily residential buildings.
Relatedly, the Americans with Disabilities Act established accessibility requirements for public areas in multifamily residential housing, among other requirements.
However, even buildings and units that comply with these federal disability rights laws, and their underlying regulations, frequently fail to meet the actual needs of individuals with disabilities and those looking to age in place. Structural inaccessibility remains a major barrier to adequate housing for this population.
This reality has contributed to a housing crisis for Americans with physical and/or mobility disabilities, including those who make the District of Columbia home. Nearly a quarter of DC’s residents have some form of disability, for example, with around 10 percent having mobility impairments. Approximately five percent respectively are hearing or vision impaired.
In fact, according to a 2019 study of housing developments in the D.C. region published by the D.C.-based Equal Rights Center, “while the FHA and ADA have had protections in place against disability-related discrimination for more than 20 years, this investigation revealed that people with disabilities continue to experience numerous unnecessary and likely unlawful barriers when seeking housing, regardless of whether they search in person or online.”
Importantly, the study further concluded that “as such, housing developers, property management companies, all levels of government, and the general public should act to eliminate and prevent further discrimination against people with disabilities in multifamily housing.” ANC3E agrees wholeheartedly.
Currently, developers in the District of Columbia are required to deliver a percentage of newly constructed building as “disability compliant housing” as it relates to International Code Council American National Standards Institute (ICC-ANSI) standards, including increased door clearances, turning spaces, removable base cabinets, kitchen workspaces.
However, those requirements do not necessarily enable people with disabilities or those looking to age in place to maximize their living experience. Our community can, and should, do better than the bare minimum and encourage, and, if possible incentivize, a forward-thinking approach to development that ensures all individuals are integrated into the community more than as an afterthought.
Now therefore be it resolved ANC 3E urges the Mayor and Council to develop and enact design standards based on universal design, also called inclusive design, design for all, or life span design. This is a process that enables and empowers a diverse population by improving human performance, health and wellness, and social participation making life easier, healthier, and friendlier for all. It helps put those with disabilities on a level playing field and benefits people with functional limitations and society as a whole, supporting people in being more self-reliant and socially engaged.
ANC3E urges the District to push the envelope on design standards for development that require active inclusive design choices. Specifically this may include, living spaces with key under-counter cabinets already removed (i.e., bathroom vanity, kitchen sink), grab bars already installed in bathrooms (and any secondary bath also including grab bars), roll-under stoves and sinks, comfortable reach zones, all lighting and outlets accessible, front loading laundry equipment, pull-out countertops to enable cooking prep, assist devices installed for higher-reach cabinets and closets, wider doorway clearances, and roll in showers. Glare free surfaces and using contrasting colors also improve accessibility for those with vision impairment.
ANC 3E urges the city to update its requirements for building to promote universal design but also to ensure a certain number of units are truly functional for individuals with disabilities and those aging in place in a way that enables living to the fullest potential.
ANC 3E also urges the city to provide education tools and resources for architects, developers, builders, contractors, and real estate agents and professionals that compile best practices, beyond the minimum standards, to improve accessibility of housing for all residents, including focusing on universal design.
By adopting this resolution, the ANC 3E commits for this next session and the foreseeable future, to evaluate any multi-unit development projects brought before the Commission based, in part, on the project’s commitment to improved accessibility and livability.
ANC3E, therefore, expects developers to promote and incorporate universal design and, to the extent practicable, set aside a minimum number of units that exceed federal and District standards to ensure true livability for all residents.
ANC 3E approved this resolution at its meeting on MMDDYY which was properly noticed and at which a quorum was present. The resolution was approved by a vote of x-x-x. Commissioners Jonathan Bender, Matthew Cohen, Amy Hall, Jonathan McHugh, and Tom Quinn were present.
By Jonathan Bender, Chairperson