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Why the Whole Building Approach Matters

At Steven Winter Associates, Inc., we support the whole building approach to design and construction by doing our best to ensure that projects meet sustainability, energy efficiency, and accessibility requirements, among other design strategies and goals. From our perspective, accessibility compliance is a key factor in determining whether a project is truly sustainable and efficient.

The Whole Building Approach to Design (from the Whole Building Design Guide, “Design Objectives”)

As an example, I was recently contacted by a New York City-based housing developer. They received a letter from an attorney stating that three of their recently constructed projects in New York City were “tested” and found to be noncompliant with the accessible design and construction requirements of the Fair Housing Amendments Act and the New York City Building Code. SWA toured the buildings and confirmed that the allegations were in fact true. We identified issues such as excessive cross slopes along the concrete entrance walk, the presence of steps between dwelling units and their associated terraces, the lack of properly sized kitchens and bathrooms, the lack of compliant clear width provided by all user passage doors, etc. It quickly became apparent to us and to the developer that the cost of the remediation required to bring the projects into full compliance would be astronomical.

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A Tour of DURA, New York City College of Technology’s Urban and Resilient Solar Decathlon Home

Last week, I had the opportunity to visit the DURAhome, New York City College of Technology’s entry for the 2015 Solar Decathlon. This project is currently nearing completion at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Over the past 3 months, more than sixty students have toiled around the clock to finish construction in time for the contest, which will take place October 8-18 in Irvine, California. The Solar Decathlon is the U.S. Department of Energy’s biennial competition that challenges college and university student-led teams to design and build solar-powered net-zero homes that are affordable, energy-efficient, and aesthetically appealing.

TeamDURA’s focus was to create a prototype of post-disaster housing that is suited for New York City’s high-density urban environment, and could serve as a shelter in the aftermath of a catastrophic storm. As such, multifamily, multistory solutions were preferable to traditional single-family trailers, which have larger footprints. DURAhome consists of several prefabricated modules that can be packaged and shipped on standard-sized tractor trailers for quick response at low cost. These flexible modules can then be joined in standalone configurations or stacked for multifamily uses. Like the city, the DURAhome is diverse, urban, resilient, and adaptable.

NY City Tech Freshman Langston Clark continues work on DURA into the early evening.

NY City Tech Freshman Langston Clark continues work on DURA into the early evening.

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The Future of Accessible Housing

Fair Housing Act Happy Fair Housing Month! This April marks the 47th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act. On April 11, 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the FHA into law, making it illegal to discriminate in the sale or rental of housing, among other transactions, based on race, religion, color, sex, and national origin. However, it wasn’t until 20 years later (1988) that the FHA was amended to include protections for people with disabilities, which instituted a host of accessibility regulations that are still the standard for multifamily housing design today.

As our country and politics evolve, I wonder how an additional 20 years will change the face of accessible housing. There are many initiatives that challenge us to look beyond the current standards written into federal laws and building codes. The Visitability Movement, for example, led by Eleanor Smith, champions a modest level of accessibility for single family homes, which currently are not required by federal law to meet any level of accessibility (see SWA staff present with Ms. Smith at the 2015 AIA National Convention). In addition, the U.S. Access Board and American National Standards Institute (ANSI), two parties responsible for writing accessibility standards, continue to expand on accessible design, particularly as the disability rights movement continues to shape public policy, allowing for increased levels of accessibility.

Equal Opportunity LogoWe are also seeing a trend in the voluntary incorporation of accessible features in design initiatives such as Universal Design, which promotes usability for all ages and abilities, as well as aging in place initiatives. SWA has been compiling an accessible product directory (to be released soon) that features a wide range of sleek and modern products that enhance accessibility without compromising style. We’ve also been on the cusp of ventures that address health and wellness through design, such as the WELL Building Standard, which promotes accessibility as a main component of a building occupant’s health and wellbeing.

We at SWA will certainly celebrate this Fair Housing Month and all the progress made towards housing that is inclusive to all; however we would be remiss if we didn’t think about what’s in store for accessible design in the future. We look forward to learning and growing with our clients and partners as we continue to bring accessibility to the built environment.

Let us know how the Fair Housing Act has made a positive impact on your life and what you hope to see in the future. Follow us on Twitter and use #FairHousingMonth to follow and contribute to the conversation!

The Access Files – The Truth is Out There

Peter Stratton

Peter Stratton, SWA’s Director of Accessibility Compliance and Consulting

SWA Access is the quarterly publication created by SWA’s Accessibility Compliance and Consulting Group to convey the importance of, and help  demystify the often complex world of accessible design, construction, and compliance. After all, as the group’s director, Peter Stratton, often says, “Sustainable Design is Accessible Design.”

Each edition of the newsletter features a section that answers specific questions asked during project work or public seminars. We will periodically post these items to Party Walls, but if there’s something you would like answered now, you can post your question in the comment section below and someone from SWA’s accessibility team will answer them (and in a timely manner!)

Q: Under the Fair Housing Amendments Act, are multifamily housing developments that utilize valet parking still required to provide a total of 2% accessible parking spaces serving covered dwelling units?

A: Yes. the guidelines require that accessible parking be provided for residents with disabilities on the same terms and with the full range of choices that are provided to all residents. Providing valet parking in lieu of self parking does not change this requirement. A minimum of 2% of the parking spaces that serve covered dwelling units must be accessible. Local code requirements may be more stringent when it comes to requirements for accessible parking. Find more information by visiting:
Supplement to Notice of Fair Housing Accessibility Guidelines: Questions and Answers about the Guidelines.

Q: Is it true that HUD now accepts the 2010 ADA Standards (2010 Standards) as an alternative to the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards (UFAS) for compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504)?

A: Yes. HUD issued a Notice, effective May 23, 2014, that permits recipients of Federal funding to use the 2010 Standards as an alternative to UFAS on projects subject to Section 504. However, HUD has deemed certain provisions of the 2010 Standards to provide less accessibility than is currently required by UFAS. So, be sure to learn about the exceptions if you choose to apply the 2010 Standards to your next project. HUD’s Notice remains in effect until the agency formally adopts an updated accessibility standard for compliance with Section 504.