Visitability

Prepared for The Reston Master Plan special Study Task Force By:

The Residential, Urban Design and Livability Working group Reston 2020 Committee Reston Citizens Association May 31, 2010

Residential Urban Design and Livability Working Group Kathy Kaplin, Co-chair Dick Rogers, Co-chair Marion Stillson, principle author Jennifer Byl John Carter Mike Corrigan Fred Costello Paul Darmory Bill Dingell Dave Edwards Joe Leighton Terry Maynard Stephanie Mirabello Bryan Moll Richard Newlon Bill Penniman Tammi Petrine Terri Phillips Holli Ploog Wendye Quaye Guy Rando Rob Whitfield

Visitability for New Residential Construction
The need for visitability arises because most houses have steps at all entrances, with the result that if mobility-impaired relatives want to visit, they cannot enter unassisted, nor can they stay overnight. Similarly, mobility-impaired friends cannot stop by, whether to attend a meeting or borrow a cup of sugar. It is a contradiction to the ubiquity of steps that most older Americans want to stay in their own homes as they age. Visitability, when supplied in a moderate percentage of newly-constructed homes, fills these needs. Features required for Visitability are arguable, but the Reston Citizens Association (RCA) Board and RCA’s Reston 2020 committee have adopted the definition of the American Association of Retired People (AARP), which has only three, unambiguous features: ● A zero-step entrance ● Wide doorways with 32” clear passage space on the main floor ● A half-bathroom on the main floor RCA’s Reston 2020 recommends that the Reston Master Plan Task Force adopt the (AARP) concept of visitability, which is limited, easy to understand and easy to cost. These features are inexpensive when incorporated during construction, but can be prohibitively costly for retrofitting. Reston 2020 also recommends that the Reston Master Plan Task Force apply the concept of visitability, using the AARP definition, to all the relevant new and replacement housing in Reston which will be built under the Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan. The visitability movement targets housing units not otherwise covered by existing laws. This includes new single-family homes, duplexes, triplexes and townhouses (which are not covered by the Fair Housing Act). It includes housing not covered by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, because housing covered by Section 504 already mandates a percentage of accessible houses when federal funds are used. AARP conducted a nationwide survey in 2008 of how many visitible houses were built under programs which were mandatory and programs which were voluntary. They found that in all the areas with voluntary programs, only 1300 visitable houses had been built during the year. For areas with mandatory programs, however, 30,000 visitable houses were built. AARP’s research revealed that both the construction industry and the general public were unaware of the concept of visitability, but once they saw houses which embodied it, they liked them. In the resale market, visitable houses were in high demand and produced good purchase prices.

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All styles of housing on all types of sites can include visitability. For example, the zerostep entrance does not have to be at the front door--it can be a side door or back door. The zero-step entrance can also be accessed from the garage. Having a basement is not an impediment. Experience in other communities across the United States has shown that even difficult home sites can, with creativity, incorporate AARP Visitability. Reston has always striven to be innovative and inclusive. As far as inclusivity is concerned, however, the preponderance of townhouses and multi-level condos in Reston has made Reston extremely inhospitable to people with mobility impairments. Many residents are forced to move out as they age not only of the home they love, but also of the community they love. It is now possible to remedy this situation to some extent, as we contemplate the next twenty or thirty years of Reston’s development and re-development. Now is an excellent time to implement the concept of visitability. Supervisor Hudgins, adding this to the concept of Universal Design already recommended by Fairfax County, stated that “visitability is an idea whose time has come.” Other local non-profits which advocate for affordable and accessible housing can be expected to support the move. Fairfax County currently does not have a community within its borders which could showcase visitability, and has to cede to Loudoun and Prince William Counties for cutting edge accessible design. RCA’s Reston 2020 committee recommends that the Reston Master Plan Task Force mandate that a percentage of new housing built in Reston under the Comprehensive Plan be visitable. Other communities have used percentages, in certain circumstances, as high as 25%. In Maryland, bills requiring 100% accessibility have been introduced but not yet passed. Virginia is not a friendly environment for a mandatory program. If a mandatory program is not feasible, incentives can be devised. In other communities, builder and consumer incentives have been used, as well as certificate programs. Visitaibility pays off for everyone in the long run as demand and resale prices will both increase. Let’s do what we can for Visitability here, and make Reston notable again for its inclusivity, sustainability and good planning

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