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The New HUD-approved FHA Safe Harbors

Houses in a rowEven though the Fair Housing Act (FHA) has been in effect for more than 30 years, owners, developers, architects and others are still cited for noncompliance with the FHA’s seven design and construction requirements. Based on our experience, a major contributing factor to this continued noncompliance is the common misconception that following the accessibility requirements of a building code (e.g., current editions of The International Building Code) will result in compliance with the FHA. To ensure compliance with the design and construction requirements of the FHA, it is important to incorporate one of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) approved safe harbors into the design of a multifamily development. The long-standing list of safe harbors has not been updated in nearly 14 years, when the 2003 edition of the ICC A117.1 Standard was approved by HUD. Before that, the 2006 edition of the International Building Code was the latest version of the code to be HUD- approved as meeting the design and construction requirements of the Act. As a result, while the building codes have continued to progress, HUD has lagged behind – until now.

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Designing for Inclusion with Victoria Lanteigne

Disability inclusion in the built environment is extremely important. But, it shouldn’t end there. How do we ensure that we are being truly inclusive of all types of people, taking into account a wider diversity of backgrounds, orientations, and abilities? The answer is Universal Design.

On this episode of Building’s + Beyond, Robb chats with former SWA employee and Universal Design expert, Victoria Lanteigne. Victoria has devoted her career to the advancement of Universal Design, educating herself and others on the concept and its limitless applications. In her interview, she discusses trends, tactics, and examples from the field, and challenges practitioners to re-think their definition of the word, design.

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Five Misconceptions about The Americans with Disabilities Act

This past summer, the country celebrated the 30th anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Despite the progress of the past few decades, there are still misconceptions about what the law requires for buildings and facilities. Below are five of the most common misconceptions our consultants encounter.

Cover pages of the ADA Title III Regulations and the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design1.      All buildings that predate the ADA are exempt from accessibility requirements.

Unlike building codes, the ADA does not contemplate the concept of “grandfathering.” Included in the ADA regulation is the ongoing obligation for barrier removal, despite the age of a building. Specifically, if a barrier to access exists in a building that predates the ADA, then there is an obligation to remove the barrier if it is readily achievable to do so. Readily achievable means that fixing the barrier does not involve too much difficulty or expense. Such determinations must be made on a case-by-case basis and consider many factors, including financial resources.

2.      Following the accessibility requirements of the building code will satisfy the accessibility requirements of the ADA.

Even though the 2010 Standards for Accessible Design (the technical standard referenced by the ADA) is similar to the technical standards referenced by many building codes (e.g., A117.1 Standard for Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities), they are mutually exclusive. Compliance with the accessibility requirements of the building code does not satisfy compliance with the accessibility requirements of the ADA; and, vice versa. The general rule of thumb is to apply all applicable laws, codes, and standards and comply with the most stringent requirement.

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Integrating Social Equity into Green Building – Part 2: Pre-Design Phase

*Click here to read Part 1 of this blog!

The social and environmental context can vary greatly from one project to the next. To achieve social equity goals, a well-constructed plan for all project phases must be created and tracked. And, although the measures are not generally complicated, they can be numerous. In order to promote social equity, SWA has compiled this series of blog posts that teams can refer to as a guide to help facilitate the process. The goal is to help project teams understand, identify, and incorporate social and environmental goals and strategies into projects in a holistic and integrated way.

 

Image depicting equity vs equality

Image 1: – Credit: https://www.usgbc.org/resources/leed-project-team-checklist-social-impact

The following outline provides an overview of steps the design team can take in evaluating projects during Pre-Design. Throughout, references to LEED credits are cited.

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‘Back to the Basics’ of Affordable Housing with Les Bluestone

In a city as crowded and expensive as New York City, there is a growing need for access to safe and affordable housing. With this demand comes great innovation, as well as roadblocks and challenges between construction, financing, and policy.

In this month’s Buildings + Beyond episode, Robb sits down with Les Bluestone, co-founder of Blue Sea Development. Les has been leading the way in affordable, green building in New York City since the 80’s. He gives us a brief history lesson on affordable housing in NYC, and provides us with his outlook of what development and construction will look like in 5 years and beyond.

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Integrating Social Equity into Green Building – Part 1: “Just Sustainability”

The causes of social inequity and injustice are deeply rooted within the systems that shape our society, including the built environment. The built environment represents the literal foundation of our society’s presence in the world – from the smallest rural community to the largest city. The way in which buildings are designed, constructed, and maintained has a tremendous influence on the equity (or inequity), and the justice (or injustice), of our society. The way we build and the strategies we employ can either continue to worsen social issues or can lay the groundwork for significant progress to be made on these issues in places around the world.

The building industry continues to make progress on reducing negative environmental impacts of the built environment. In fact, we’re increasingly seeing practices and strategies go beyond “sustainable” to “regenerative,” with such goals as net-positive energy, water, and waste. Now, the industry is reckoning with the urgent need to integrate social equity into its definition of sustainability in order to also reduce negative social impacts of the built environment. We might accelerate the process by framing the goal as “net-positive equity.” (more…)

Tech Notes: Sliding Doors at Dwelling Units

Private outdoor space is a desirable amenity for apartment dwellers, especially as COVID-19 restrictions have led to more time spent at home. Balconies and terraces accessed directly from multifamily residential dwelling units are increasingly popular with many of our clients, a trend we expect to see continue in the coming years. For designers looking to incorporate this feature, it is important to note that secondary exterior doors from dwelling units have specific accessibility considerations.

One of the most common problem areas that our accessibility consultants see in multifamily housing units are noncompliant secondary exterior sliding doors. The Fair Housing Act (FHA), as well as most building codes, strictly regulate these doors, from clear width and thresholds to door hardware at certain unit types. Our consultants highly recommend that swing doors are used in lieu of sliding doors at secondary exterior locations; however, if a sliding door is preferred, it is vital to consider the following requirements, among others:

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Trends in Healthcare: Charging Stations

Trends in Healthcare” is a recurring series that focuses on exciting new designs and technologies we’re seeing in healthcare projects and provides best practices on how to ensure that these latest trends are accessible to persons with disabilities. We build on the wealth of knowledge we gain from working with healthcare design teams, construction crews, and practitioners to provide practical solutions for achieving accessible healthcare environments.


Anyone who has ever had to take a trip to the hospital knows how much time is often spent in the waiting room. As a result, our experience in that space can shape our perception of the entire visit. In fact, studies have shown that a visitor’s impression of the waiting room itself contributes significantly to the likelihood of a return visit.[1]  The length of wait times can vary – from a relatively short wait for a screening, to an average of 40 minutes in emergency departments, to the better part of a day if you are waiting for a family member to receive treatment.[2] As healthcare providers strive to remove pain points within the patient experience, they are turning to a number of design strategies to help create a more pleasant waiting room experience. One of these strategies is to ensure that patients and visitors have access to electrical outlets.

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Tech Notes: Automatic Doors

image of "Caution Automatic Door" signAs the country continues to confront the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic, the way we navigate spaces is changing. One of these changes is the way we interact with common use objects that traditionally require hand-operation, like doors. While automatic doors have always been a good option for providing greater access to people with disabilities, hygiene concerns associated with the spread of disease have presented another argument for their use. The rise of touchless technology as a result of this pandemic will increase the use of automatic doors not just for accessibility or convenience, but for public health as well. For anyone considering incorporating automatic doors into their designs, either for new construction or as a retrofit, here are some important things to consider:

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Fair Housing – What’s Your Safe Harbor?

Compliance with the accessible design and construction requirements of the Fair Housing Act (FHA), a federal civil rights law, has significantly improved since the early 1990s when the regulations were promulgated. Unfortunately, a quick search of recent news articles will reveal that noncompliance with basic FHA requirements continues to be a problem in newly constructed multifamily projects nationwide. Owners, developers, architects, and others are still cited for noncompliance with the FHA’s seven design and construction requirements despite the fact that it has been approximately 30 years since those requirements went into effect.

Based on our experience, one of the contributing factors in continued noncompliance is the common misconception that following the accessibility requirements of a building code will result in compliance with the FHA. It is important to note that if the accessibility requirements of one of the ten HUD-approved safe harbors are not incorporated into the design of a multifamily development, and the project complies only with the accessibility requirements of a building code, then the risk of noncompliance exists.

Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, many building codes fell far short of FHA compliance. For example, many developers in New York City relied on compliance with NYC’s Local Law 58 of 1987, believing that they would also be compliant with the Fair Housing Act. Unfortunately, this resulted in widespread noncompliance. LL58 permitted step up terraces and small bathroom layouts with inswinging doors, among other design elements that did not satisfy FHA compliance. The problem has certainly become less pervasive in more recent years as the ICC and local jurisdictions have become aware of shortcomings in their code requirements, but there are still some FHA criteria that have fallen through the cracks in even the most up-to-date building codes. (more…)