If you use a wheelchair, walker, cane or have other problems with using steps, home accessibility is important to you. The federal government sets standards for some accessible housing programs. While these programs generally meet the needs of most people, your own accessibility needs may be different.
Fair Housing Act Standards
Both privately owned and publicly assisted housing, regardless of whether they are rental or for sale units, must meet the accessibility requirements of the Fair Housing Act when they are located in a building of four or more units and built for first occupancy after March 13, 1991. Covered multifamily dwellings are: 1. all dwelling units in buildings containing four or more dwelling units if such buildings have one or more elevators, and 2. all ground floor dwelling units in buildings containing four or more units that do not have an elevator. The standards guide architects and developers in creating physically accessible entrances to buildings, bathrooms, kitchens, flooring, light switches, appliances and other features. According to the Fair Housing Act Design Guide, “The Fair Housing Act is intended to place “modest accessibility requirements on covered multifamily dwellings …. These modest requirements will be incorporated into the design of new buildings, resulting in features which do not look unusual and will not add significant additional costs” (House Report 7112 at 25 and 18). Fair housing units are not fully accessible, nor are they purported to be; however, new multifamily housing built to comply with the guidelines will be a dramatic improvement over units built in the past.”
Some people do not need fully wheelchair accessible housing. People who use a walker or cane may be able to live in a fair housing accessible unit with a few modifications. Some features that help people in this situation include:
- No-step entry
- Unit modifications for physical accessibility
- Grab bars
- Levered door and faucet handles
- Accessible floor coverings
- Tub cuts
- Cabinet removal for sink access
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
The ADA primarily deals with accessibility of public facilities such as restaurants, hotels and parks. With respect to housing accessibility, Title II of the ADA covers housing provided by public entities (state and local governments), such as housing on a state university campus or housing owned by a PHA. Title III requires that public and common use areas at housing developments be accessible.
UFAS Accessibility Standards
All federally assisted new construction housing developments with five or more units must adhere to requirements of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and must design and construct 5% of the dwelling units, or at least one unit, whichever is greater, to be accessible for persons with mobility disabilities. These units must be constructed in accordance with the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards (UFAS) or a standard that is equivalent or stricter. An additional 2% of the dwelling units, or at least one unit, whichever is greater, must be accessible for persons with hearing or visual disabilities.
There are many things that can be done to make a home more accessible for a person with visual impairments. Small modifications can prove a big step towards making a person with a visual impairment more independent and confident. Some suggestions are listed below.
- Lighting – Pay attention to the lighting system in the home. Light is a very important factor for most people with visual impairments. Not all such people completely lack sight. Most can detect light and dark to varying degrees. Suggestions include keeping hallways, stairs and entrances well lit, use non-glare lighting and install lights in closets and cupboards.
- Color Contrast – Pay attention to creating color contrast all over the house. People with visual impairment find it easy to locate something if it is contrasting with the background.
- Tactile Enhancements – People with vision impairments tend to be competent in using their sense of touch. For example, furniture with textured upholstery will enable a person to recognize furniture in different rooms by their texture. Suggestions for texture enhancements include marking switches, kitchen cupboards and personal items with embossed stickers.
- Safety Enhancement – Safety is a very important consideration. Some suggestions to increase safety include installing grab bars wherever needed, keep floors free of clutter and tape down edges of area rugs.
Assistive Technology – Hearing accessibility can often be addressed through the use of assistive technology. Suggestions include:
- Door Signalers – Door signalers let deaf and hard of hearing people know when someone is at the door, usually by flashing a light.
- Smoke Detectors – Smoke detectors come in two formats: hard-wired, meaning that a professional electrician needs to install it, or ready to be plugged in. The alarms either flash bright strobe lights or emit an extremely loud sound. A single transmitter can be connected to multiple receivers to provide alerting throughout a home or building. Vibration systems are also available.
- Carbon Monoxide Detectors – Carbon monoxide detectors operate by either producing a loud, audible sound or by flashing colored lights (usually red). Strobe lights and wireless receivers are also available. The detectors are either stand-alone detectors or used in conjunction with existing alarm systems. Both hardwired and plug-in detectors are available.
Funding for Home Modification
Modifications to the home environment can be costly. Listed below are some possible resources to help pay for modifications.
Medicaid Waiver Funding
Medicaid waivers often include a service that will assist with home modification costs that are necessary for accessibility. The DDA waivers listed below have “Environmental Modifications” as a service.
- Community Pathways
- Community Supports
- Family Supports
- Community Options
Home Modification Programs
Programs Through Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development
Maryland Accessible Homes for Seniors
The Maryland Accessible Homes for Seniors program, via the WholeHome program, offers financial assistance for a variety of home improvements to increase accessibility for elderly Maryland residents. Improvements and modifications may include the following:
- Addition of exterior ramps or stair lifts
- Widening of doorways
- Addition of hand railing
- Bathroom modifications, such as adding grab bars, a handheld shower attachment or a bathtub or shower seat
- Addition of lever handles for faucets and doors
- Addition of rocker light switches and/or relocation of electrical outlets
- Addition of lighting.
- Addition or renovation of a first floor bathroom
- Addition of a first-floor bedroom
- Relocation of the laundry area.
- Closet adjustments.
Financial assistance comes in the form of deferred loans, offered up to 30 years at 0% interest. Loans are limited to the value of the home owned, debt free, up to 110%. These loans require no monthly payment and only become due when a home is sold, transferred, refinanced or the loan recipient moves from the home. If an applicant is not eligible for a loan, a grant of up to $25,000 may be available.
Maryland Housing Rehabilitation Program – Single Family
The purpose of the Maryland Housing Rehabilitation Program is to preserve and improve owner-occupied single-family properties and one-to-four-unit rental properties. It is a program designed to bring properties up to applicable building codes and standards.
The Maryland WholeHome Program can help you make valuable repairs and enhancements to your home that can lower your family’s monthly utility bills and improve your quality of life.
Maryland WholeHome grants and loans can be used to upgrade to energy efficient appliances, repair or replace heating and cooling systems, replace insulation, add accessibility features for seniors or those with special needs, remove lead paint, upgrade plumbing, and address structural and maintenance issues. With low-interest rate loans and grants, having a healthier home that saves money is easier than ever.
- Home Repair Improvements
- Plumbing and septic repairs
- Roof repair/replacement
- Correct building code violations
- Repair/replace porches
- Address structural or maintenance issues
- Install accessibility aids such as hand railings, ramps, grab bars, wider doorways
- Energy Efficiency Improvements
- Install EnergyStar appliances
- Improve air quality
- Install energy conservation materials/insulation
- Seal air and whole house envelope
- Upgrade/repair HVAC systems, clean furnaces, improve heating/cooling functions
Programs Through Local Government
Baltimore County Housing Accessibility Modification Program (HAMP)
HAMP provides financial assistance to homeowners and renters with disabilities so their homes can be modified to meet their accessibility needs.
To be eligible, an applicant must have a disability, own a property, or reside in Baltimore County, and have a rental lease agreement. The total household income may not exceed 80% of the median income for Baltimore County. Eligible incomes change annually and are specified in the application.
Modifications are based on an applicant’s particular needs and may include the installation of wheelchair ramps/lifts, renovations to bathrooms and kitchens, grab bars, flashing doorbells, or lighting changes. Each request is reviewed on a case-by-case basis. Prior to approval, requests are reviewed by an inspector. Common areas are not included and modifications must be approved by the landlord.