Washington Building Code Council Could Reduce Required Housing Units for People with Disabilities
October 17, 2006
By Kevin Graman, The Spokesman-Review, Spokane, Wash.
Washington residents with disabilities might soon have a harder time finding accessible housing if a state panel reduces the required number of accessible units that builders must include in apartments and condominiums.
On one side of the issue are contractors and architects who favor reducing the number of “Type A” accessible units from the state standard of 5 percent to the national standard of 2 percent. The code applies to multifamily buildings with 10 units or more of housing. “Our concern is that over the years we have probably overbuilt these units, which are very expensive to construct,” said Brian Minnich, legislative affairs director of the Building Industry Association of Washington. He said a 1995 survey showed few of such units were actually occupied by someone who required that level of accessibility. Reducing the requirement to 2 percent would be consistent with the International Building Code, the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disability Act. However, under the Rehabilitation Act, housing projects that receive federal funds are required to provide wheelchair access in 5 percent of units.
On the other side are disabled rights advocates who argue that there are not enough accommodations for people with disabilities. “People who need accessible housing are encountering significant difficulty in finding it when they need it,” said Toby Olson, executive secretary of the governor’s Committee on Disability Issues. “The aging of our population is only going to make the demand worse.” According to Olson, he cost of building a Type A unit is 0.5 percent to 2 percent higher than that of a normal unit. The Washington Independent Living Center Coalition, which includes Spokane’s Coalition of Responsible Disabled, has called for keeping the code at 5 percent. “The state has always been in the forefront,” said Marc Brenman, executive director of the state Human Rights Commission. “This is a step backward.”
Caught in the middle is the state Building Code Council, which has led the nation in disability rights issues. The council will decide on the proposal at its Nov. 17 meeting. Public testimony on the issue ended Oct. 13, said Timothy Nogler, the council’s managing director. The council is reviewing the state codes as it does every three years. Nogler said most of the testimony the council has received was that there are not enough units as demand increases. “Five percent of the public has mobility issues now, and that is expected to increase to 7 percent by 2010 as the population ages.” Any revisions in the state building codes would take effect on July 1, 2007, after the Legislature has a chance to review them.
Copyright (c) 2006, The Spokesman-Review, Spokane, Wash.
Sensenbrenner/Hoyer Introduce Bipartisan Legislation Restoring Americans with Disabilities Act Protections
WASHINGTON, Sept. 29 /U.S. Newswire/ — House Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr. (R-Wis.) and House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) today introduced bipartisan legislation that would restore protections for disabled Americans under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). H.R. 6258, is titled the “Americans with Disabilities Act Restoration Act of 2006.”
Chairman Sensenbrenner stated, “The landmark American with Disabilities Act has helped ensure American citizens no longer live in isolation but live as independent, self sufficient members of our communities. In recent years, however, the Supreme Court has slowly chipped away at the broad protections of the ADA and has created a new set of barriers for disabled Americans. This bipartisan legislation will enable disabled Americans utilizing the ADA to focus on the discrimination that they have experienced rather than having to first prove that they fall within the scope of the ADA’s protection. With this bill, the ADA’s ‘clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination on the basis of disability’ will be properly restored and the ADA can rightfully reclaim its place among our Nation’s civil rights laws.”
Congressman Hoyer said: “As the lead Democratic sponsor of the ADA in the House, I harbored no illusions that this legislation would topple centuries of prejudice overnight – nor that we could legislate that prejudice out of existence. Over the last 16 years, this landmark law has ushered in significant change. However, the promise of the ADA remains unfulfilled. The Supreme Court’s interpretations of this historic law have been largely inconsistent with the original intent of Congress and President George H.W. Bush in enacting the ADA. For example, people with diabetes, heart conditions and cancer have had their ADA claims kicked out of court because, with improvements in medication, they are considered ‘too functional’ to be considered ‘disabled.’ This is not what Congress intended when it passed the ADA. We intended the law to be broadly – not narrowly – interpreted. The point of the law is not disability; the point is discrimination. I am pleased to join Chairman Sensenbrenner in introducing this legislation, which will help restore the original intent of the ADA.”
“Americans with Disabilities Act Restoration Act” Background
Replacing “against an individual with a disability” with “on the basis of a disability” harmonizes the ADA with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination “on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, and sex.”
Prohibiting discrimination “on the basis of a disability” will enable individuals utilizing the ADA to focus on the discrimination that they have experienced rather than having to prove that they fall within the intended scope of the ADA. This phrase presumes that an individual is a member of the protected class if they are disabled, which the current language – “against an individual with a disability” – does not.
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