AUSTIN -- Soon, nearly every new home in Austin could come with ramps, first-floor bathrooms and special handles on the doors. It’s part of a proposal before Austin City Council called “visitibility,” to make houses more accessible for people with disabilities.
“I see this as an opportunity for even young folks who have to take care of their parents, if they ever have to do that and bring them to their home, at least they've got a place that they can visit,” said city planner Leon Barba.
Currently, Austin offers an incentive for these types of disability-friendly home designs under a program called S.M.A.R.T.
However, that is an optional program, and the city is now considering making it a mandatory code.
Some of the proposed requirements for all new houses built after January 1st, 2016 include a bathroom or half bathroom on the first floor.
Also, bathroom light switches must be no higher than 48 inches, and bathroom outlets must be at least 15 inches off the floor.
The inside of the home must have level door handles, not knobs for easy access.
The most controversial of the requirements is a ramp leading up to the home, called a “no step ramp,” designed for people in wheelchairs or on crutches.
The Homebuilders Association of Greater Austin tells KVUE those ramps could be expensive and complicated.
“We estimate that even on entry-level houses, it's going to cost between $1,500 and $2,000 per house,” said HBA member Harry Savio.
There is also concern regarding ramps at homes built on steep hills.
“If it goes up too much, you have to have railings. There has to be landings. All of this factors into putting a ramp into a house and it's much more complicated than what people think of,” said Savio.
The HBA of Greater Austin says more than 90 percent of their members want to keep these options optional.
“Only one a half percent of the population is in a wheelchair, and many of those people don't want special accommodations in the form of forcing you as a homeowner to have to change what your personal choices are,” Savior said.
Those current choices may become mandatory by 2016. The Austin City Council will vote on visitibility requirements at their meeting on May 23rd.
The code would apply for all new homes and duplexes built in subdivisions.