City approves tighter ADA guidelines for new homes

Austin city council members approved stricter standards Thursday for residential single-family and duplex construction.

The requirements passed with a 6-1 vote.

The new standards will require:

  • New homes with a habitable space on the first floor to be constructed with a bathroom.
  • Light switches on the visitable floor must be no higher than 48 inches above the floor; outlets must be a minimum of 15 inches above the floor
  • A clear path on the visitable flood with a minimum width of 32 inches
  • An exterior route to a no-step entrance for newly developed lots and all new structures built on existing lots

“I think its a really good thing,” said Brian East, a lawyer with Disability Rights Texas told KXAN on Jan 22 when the proposal was being considered. “People often come to us complaining about inaccessible housing and a lot of times the law doesn’t require it to be.”

Jennifer McPhail, 42, has been wheelchair bound since birth with Cerebral Palsey. As a community advocate for the disabled, she has fought for these changes for 15 years.

“We just changed the course of history and generations of people will benefit from this,” she said. “Not just disabled people, but the people who want to interact with us. In our homes, and their homes.

“It happens to people all the time and you don’t necessarily know when you buy your home, in six months, six years or 10,” she said, “you won’t know if you’re going to become disabled, and you’ll be grateful.”

However, the Home Builders Association of Greater Austin said they have several concerns with the proposed law and call it an intrusion of privacy, not a public safety issue.

“The council has told you what you have to do in your home, on your lot,” said Harry Savio with HBA of Greater Austin. “So long as it’s not a public safety issue, it should be your own personal choice.”

Savio says the increase in cost for home buyers will drive more people to buy homes outside the city.

“This would increase the average price of a home about $2,000,” Savio says. “For every thousand dollars you increase the price of a home, that’s 1,500 families that can’t afford to buy the house.

“ You can only ask so much of a builder, or anyone, to absorb so much loss,” he added, “and they’re not in business any longer.”

Some of the new requirements for builders will kick in within the next 90 days, and all the requirements would take effect on Jan. 1, 2015.

Currently, about 6,800 homes in the city limits already meet that standard. Many of those homes are in the Mueller development.

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