Posted at 12:19 p.m., Tuesday, June 19, 2007
'Lifespan' housing code on Maui could help seniors
By ILIMA LOOMIS
The Maui News
Peter Durkson, a member of the Maui County Council on Aging, said a few basic changes to building designs would allow more people to "age in place" and live comfortably in their homes as they get older, instead of moving to an assisted-living facility.
He's hoping the Maui County Council will consider passing a "lifespan housing policy" that would make accessibility a requirement for all new homes.
"It's like having insurance that will enable you to stay in your home and not go to a nursing home," he told The Maui News.
Durkson said the proposed housing code would require "minimum accessibility" features, such as doorways and halls wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs, a front entry that doesn't require a step up, and at least one accessible bedroom and bathroom on the ground floor.
"It's very difficult in traditional homes, to be blunt about it, to get onto the toilet or into the shower," for people who use a wheelchair or walker, he said.
Durkson wanted to see the code mandatory for all one-story residential buildings, while multistory homes or condos would have to provide accessibility on the ground floor.
While acknowledging that some are concerned about aesthetics and cost, Durkson said he believed the simple design changes could be made without looking "institutional" and with no extra expense. And they could save big on nursing costs in the long term.
"The cost benefits are very favorable," he said.
County Council Member Bill Kauakea Medeiros, who co-chairs the Public Works and Facilities Committee, said he would look at the proposal.
"If it seems feasible, and won't affect the cost of affordable housing significantly, then I think it's a good idea to discuss and at least try to design into the homes," he said.
Finding an accessible home to rent can be a big challenge for wheelchair users, said Elsie Santos. The Kahului resident has used a wheelchair due to multiple sclerosis for 17 years. Stairs, narrow doorways and tight bathrooms can all make a home unlivable for someone with a disability, she said.
Santos is working with Durkson on the "lifespan" housing code, helping to organize a petition in support.
Now she lives in a handicapped unit at Kahului Town Terrace, where her landlord just replaced an old bathtub with an accessible shower. Aesthetically, it looks nice, she said, like the open walk-in showers popular in spas.
"It's like a hotel bathroom," she said.
Builder Dwayne Betsill said he hadn't heard of the proposed accessibility code, but felt it could work.
Most of the one-story homes that his Betsill Brothers builds already have no step up from the driveway to the front entrance, he noted.
"The only time it's a problem is if you have a flood zone where you have to build up," he said.
While wider doors can look "awkward," they shouldn't be more expensive, he added.
While Betsill hoped there would be exceptions for two-story homes and condos, he said the modifications required by the proposed code would be possible for ground-level projects without adding significant costs.
"If you're just doing single-story houses, it can be done," he said.
Santos said there wasn't a reason why all homes shouldn't have accessibility built in. Even people who are healthy today may find themselves on crutches tomorrow or in a wheelchair in old age, she noted.
"Doing this, in the long run, helps everybody," she said. "In life, we don't know what's going to happen."
For more Maui news, visit The Maui News.