City looks to require handicapped accessible features in new hom - MyFoxAustin.com | KTBC Fox 7 | News, Weather, Sports

City looks to require handicapped accessible features in new homes

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The City of Austin is making your business their business. They are proposing new requirements for newly-built homes in the capital city.

Some say their recommendations will keep people from moving to Austin.

While in theory, the idea is good - what it boils down to is an unfunded mandate for all new home construction.

Since 2000, homes that are funded by the city have to meet handicapped accessible requirements.

Now this could be required in every new home.

Stephanie Thomas is an organizer for ADAPT, a grass-roots disability rights organization. The idea behind their push is to become more integrated within the community.

"It's about making a more friendly housing stock in the town. It's going to be a very gradual transition and we know that but over time, kids of today maybe can grow up and learn that they can go visit whoever they want to," said Stephanie Thomas, ADAPT.

There are many places that are off-limits to people with physical disabilities. Advocates hope the ordinance can change that.

"It's about a bare-bones kind of accessibility, where one door in the home would have no step entrance. It could be through the garage," said Thomas.

Some of the other requirements would be; widened doorways, levered handles on all doors, an accessible route to and within the house. Outlets must be a minimum of 15 inches above the floor. Light switches and thermostats must be no higher than 48 inches above the floor.

"First of all, it's going to be more expensive. Secondly, you may not be able to get the house that you want. Third, you may have to have a smaller house because one of the things it can potentially do is severely limit the amount of impervious cover. Or limit the amount of home, gravel and sidewalk that you can put on a lot," said Harry Savio, HBA of Greater Austin.

On average it could add an extra $2,000 to the price of a new home. The Home Builders Association of Greater Austin says increasing the cost of new housing, increases the cost of all housing.

"In living in Austin, they may decide to live in a suburban community and commute to work. It may have an impact on congestion," said Savio.

The median average for a house in Austin right now is more than $200,000; making it the most expensive housing market in Texas.

"You're trying to make the masses, the 99 percent conform to the one percent. I think we should be making things conform to the one percent and leave the other 99 percent out of it," Roger Falk, Taxpayers Union.

There have been a handful of cities who have adopted this type of ordinance throughout the United States, almost all of them no longer build new houses. Within the last six months there have been many new ordinances added to new homes, estimated at $10,000.

The Austin City Council will take up this item Tuesday.

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