Task force asks city to consider accessible housing features in Blatchford

Wider doorways and hallways, and washrooms accessible from no-step front entryways are some of the features that could be the norm in Edmonton's Blatchford neighbourhood.

'Visitable housing at Blatchford is something the city can make happen,' task force member says

A conceptual image of the west part of the Blatchford development (City of Edmonton)

Wider doorways and hallways, and washrooms accessible from no-step front entryways are some of the features that could be the norm in Edmonton's Blatchford neighbourhood.

An accessibility committee asked the city's executive committee on Tuesday to consider incorporating VisitAble housing standards into a "sizeable portion" of homes in the community, which is under development on the former city centre airport lands.

Visitable housing is the concept of designing homes with easy access features on the main level for everyone, including people with limited mobility.

Incorporating just three basic aspects of greater accessibility on the main levels of houses during the planning stage for new homes is more cost-effective than modifying homes in the future, advocates say.

"To make a house visitable that isn't already is at least $30,000 and goes up from there," architect Ron Wickman said. "To do it from the beginning, to build a house that's visitable or has a no-step entrance, the extra costs are marginal."

Wickman is a member of the VisitAbility Task Force, led by the Canadian Centre on Disability Studies. He said because the city is the developer of Blatchford, they have the ability to set the tone for further possible expansion of visitable standards or other types of accessible development in the city. He said incorporating visitable housing standards in the new neighbourhood is a realistic move in gauging the public's interest in accessible housing throughout the city.

"Our VisitAbility Task Force really wanted to focus on something that we felt is doable," he said. "Visitable housing at Blatchford is something the city can make happen."

Visitable housing standards voluntary for builders

The city's executive committee determined visitable housing standards should be voluntary for builders. On Tuesday, they asked city staff to work with the VisitAbility Task Force, industry and other partners, such as the federal housing minister and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, and to return early next year with a report outlining potential pilot projects and other opportunities for visitable housing.

"We can do a couple demonstrations to show the public what it could look like and see if that's really where the public will want to go," Coun. Bev Esslinger said. "Because we know that builders in general will build what the public demands. So by providing that opportunity, we're going to see if there is demand."

The city has already broken ground for utility work at Blatchford, and the first residents are expected to move in by 2017.


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