Tempe's Commission on Disability Concerns fights for renters' rights - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Tempe's Commission on Disability Concerns fights for renters' rights

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Posted: Monday, July 9, 2012 5:55 pm

Lower counters and higher outlets; walk-in showers, elevators and wider door widths. To the Tempe Mayor’s Commission on Disability Concerns, all those features, in theory, would all be part of a fully-accessible apartment setting.

The commission, an official City of Tempe Body sponsored by the Mayor’s office, is leading the effort to create a more accessible Tempe for senior citizens and residents with disabilities. And, according to the commission, that means creating a better Tempe includes creating more accessible apartment complexes.

Ed Mitchell, chairman of the commission, explained that those features like lower counters and higher outlets allow residents to access all parts of their home without the risk of falling when trying to plug something in, or without being limited because the doorway is too tight.

“It’s not a big difference in cost if you do it to begin with,” Mitchell said of the cost of such improvements.

He estimates that if these changes are done as an apartment building is in construction, it would only cost between $50 to $100 more per unit than if built for someone without disabilities.

Additional changes can be made such as special lighting for fire alarms and telephone calls for hearing impaired citizens that would cost an additional $1,000 per unit, he notes.

“The interesting thing is the city of Tempe does give $10,000 grants to homeowners with disabilities who need to remodel their house,” Mitchell said. “For the renter there is nothing. If they can get permission from the developer to remodel an apartment, they have to pay the whole price and they have to meet the standards of the homeowner. So the ones who can’t afford to buy a home are the ones that have to pay all the money, whereas the people who can afford to buy a home get $10,000.”

In most apartment complexes, accessible units do exist. But the committee argues that the problem with accessible housing is there are laws requiring apartment complexes to have accessible rooms, but there is no law saying who can rent them.

“Accessible housing isn’t going to who needs it,” said Tom Ringhofer, a member of the committee.

Ringhofer told the story of how he was the first person on a three-year waiting list for an accessible room in an apartment complex, yet he was never given the opportunity of living there because the room was already being occupied by non-disabled renters.

“It’s a moral issue and you can’t legislate morals,” he added.

There is already one complex, Apache ASL Trail, which was built to better serve the deaf community, and approval was granted by the City Council June 14 for two other fully-accessible apartment complexes for the physically disabled: Gracie’s Village and The Villas at South Bank.

Construction will start as soon as final adjustments are made to change the zoning of the apartment complexes, Mitchell said.

The developers foresee no problems because they are already building above standard regulation code. The apartment complexes are expected to be finished in about 10-11 months, Mitchell said.

The commission also discussed getting approval for conducting a survey of the citizens in Tempe to identify the number and types of disabilities within the city.

“If we want to impact Tempe housing, we need to have a realistic idea of who and with what various disabilities are in the city, and where they are,” said Karl Stephens, the City of Tempe's ’s Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessibility specialist.

The logistics still need to be worked out, Mitchell explained, because “it has to be statistically valid” and there are confidentiality problems. The law states that you cannot obtain personal information from a third party, he said.

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