Sept. 3, 2008
Sandler: homes replaced after flood, tornadoes should have universal access
A University of Iowa law professor and Rebuild Iowa Commission consultant is urging state officials to replace homes damaged or destroyed by this summer's natural disasters with structures that are usable by people of all ages and abilities, especially seniors and people with disabilities.
Leonard Sandler, a clinical professor in the University of Iowa College of Law, says the state has an opportunity following the floods and tornadoes to ensure more homes are livable and accessible to disabled and senior residents.
"There was a shortage of affordable and accessible housing in Iowa long before the floods and tornados devastated the state," said Sandler, an expert in disability law and housing issues. Sandler also serves as a consultant to the Rebuild Iowa Commission's Housing Task Force that is considering how to replace or rehabilitate lost homes.
Thousands of residences in Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Coralville, Columbus Junction, Parkersburg, New Hartford and other cities were damaged or destroyed.
In a letter to the Rebuild Iowa Commission, Sandler urged the commission and its Housing Task Force to consider measures that would require homes built or renovated with public money to include universal design or minimum access features. That way, he said, the state would have more homes that are accessible to everyone, regardless of age or physical ability and could be adapted for future use.
"Many Iowans who have experienced injury, illness or disability, or who are simply getting older, find they cannot enter, navigate freely or live independently in the homes or apartments they own or rent," Sandler wrote. "They are forced to leave their homes and communities, risk institutionalization or spend thousands of dollars in home access modifications because houses or apartments with fewer than four dwelling units are not covered by any federal or state accessibility code.
"These risks are even more pronounced now, especially for older residents and persons with disabilities whose homes were damaged or destroyed."
Homes built to universal design specifications provide as independent a living situation as possible for people with disabilities or the elderly. Otherwise, those people would have difficulty living in a home that does not include basic usability features.
For example, a universal access code in Iowa City requires that publicly funded homes and apartments have a zero-step entrance, doors that have a clear width of 32 inches to accommodate wheelchairs, bathroom walls that are reinforced, and controls and switches that are placed no lower than 15 inches and no higher than 48 inches from the floor.
By adding a few additional features and fixtures, "This ensures that people of all ages and abilities can live in their homes or apartments during different life stages," Sandler said.
He suggested in his letter that the commission could achieve such objectives by putting in place mandates on builders who receive public funds or contracts for home or apartments; providing incentives or tax breaks to builders, homeowners and landlords to build to universal design specifications; and education projects using existing universal access home units to show how those kinds of residences can be built or modified.
STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Service, 300 Plaza Centre One, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500
MEDIA CONTACT: Tom Snee, University News Services, 319-384-0010 (office), 319-541-8434 (cell), firstname.lastname@example.org