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Inclusive Home Design State Advocacy Tool Kit

Less than one percent of the more than 25,000 municipalities in the U.S. have accessibility standards for new housing. Here, model legislation options that can help people of all ages

Grandfather and grandson (3-4) mowing lawn in garden, side view


Inclusive home design helps make a house a home for people of all ages.

By the year 2030 the age-65+ population in the United States will increase to more than 70 million people. Yet "nowhere has the disconnect between market norms, changing demographics and social expectations been more glaring than in the design and construction of private residential housing," notes the AARP State Inclusive Home Design Advocacy Tool Kit.

Most of the housing stock that was built in the 20th century and is still in use are multi-level and contain stairs, as do the majority of new construction homes, which are largely marketed to young buyers.   

“The older population, together with an equally large and growing population of people with disabilities, continues to be viewed as distinct groups outside the mainstream of society,” writes AARP. “The diversity within both groups tends to be ignored, and their expectations and preferences treated as ‘special needs’ to be accommodated with special designs and assistive devices separate from the ‘normal’ consumer market.”

Key Points

This state-focused advocacy tool kit was created by AARP’s State Advocacy & Strategy Integration group to assist in changing what’s considered the norm. “Advocacy on behalf of inclusive design legislation … must focus on the need to change our entire approach to the design, construction and use of housing to reflect the needs and capabilities of all potential users and appeal to the broadest possible market of potential home buyers and renters.”  

AARP’s focus is on the importance of state accessibility standards. While Congress has enacted disability rights laws that have broad application to multifamily housing, the statutes either exempt or have limited application to single-family homes, townhouses and duplex and triplex residences, which constitute more than 70 percent of the U.S.’s housing stock.  

Since 1987 at least 17 states and 55 municipalities have enacted a variety of accessibility (also called visitability) standards for single family housing not covered by the federal statutes. (For instance, Florida was the first to act, requiring that all new single family dwellings contain at least one bathroom at the entrance level.) Although many of the nation’s largest cities and counties are among those that have acted, they represent less than one percent of the more than 25,000 cities, counties and townships in the U.S.

How to Use

The tool kit contains four examples of model legislation that advocates and elected officials can use to establish residential accessibility standards. 

Each of the model legislation options contains the following five common elements:

  1. The recommendations are for single-family housing
  2. The housing has been developed using some state or local financial assistance (hence, the requirements would not impact privately financed homes)
  3. The standards would be mandatory, not voluntary
  4. Design features would be linked to ICC/ANSI A117.1 standards that include such elements as step-free entrances; accessible doorways; an entrance-level full bathroom and kitchen (or kitchenette)
  5. Provisions that can allow for granting exceptions

State Inclusive Home Design Legislative options:

  • Option 1: Single-Family New Construction and Substantial Rehabilitation: This is the base or “core” legislative option and relates to both new construction home and home undergoing significant remodeling.

  • Option 2: Single-Family New Construction: For use when there is resistance or outright opposition to imposing requirements on existing homeowners involved in a home renovation.

  • Option 3: Single-Family and Multifamily New Construction with Inclusive Home Design Task Force Provisions: Expanded legislation establishing standards for multiple types of new residential construction.

  • Option 4: Municipal Ordinance Enabling Bill: For use in states where there has been legislative opposition or little support.

Advocacy Tool Kit Table of Contents

Page 1:     Introduction to Inclusive Home Design

Page 7:     Introduction to ICC/ANSI Design Standards

Page 11:    History of Inclusive Home Design Legislation

Page 15:    Model State Inclusive Design Bills

Page 23:    Model Legislation: Option 1

Page 39:    Model Legislation: Option 2

Page 53:    Model Legislation: Option 3

Page 71:    Model Legislation: Option 4

Page 85:    Optional Exceptions Provision

Page 87:    Key Concepts and Definitions

Page 91:    Core Design Features

Page 99:    Advocacy Facts and Statistics

Page 105:  Opposition Arguments

Page 115:  Sample Advocacy Letters

Page 123:  Accessibility Legislation: 1987-2011

Research published February 2012

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