By Victoria Lanteigne, Corporate Partnerships and Training Manager
In 2008, the Equal Rights Center (ERC) started a pilot program with the goal of increasing the number of residential housing units and properties in the United States that are accessible to persons with disabilities. The program sought to change the way that multifamily housing development, construction, and management companies approached accessibility. All too often, the ERC had found, the approach to accessibility was reactive. Apartment and condo developers and builders would construct multi-million dollar complexes, only to find themselves spending incredibly large sums to remove barriers to accessibility, after the fact.
Since its founding, the ERC’s unique Multifamily Housing Resource Program (MHRP) has offered a new approach to accessibility issues. The MHRP focuses on proactively ensuring that multifamily units and complexes comply with federal and local regulations to promote accessibility for all prospective tenants. Through a variety of resources, the MHRP helps its members enhance compliance with the accessibility requirements of the Fair Housing Act (FHA), the Americans with Disabilities Act, and other applicable state and local laws.
After five years of work, the MHRP has grown exponentially to 18 members, including developers representing more than 600,000 apartments and condominiums across the country, architectural design and accessibility firms, and accessibility-related product and service vendors. These industry leaders serve as models for the housing industry, and give many of the nation’s 57 million individuals with disabilities the opportunity to live where they choose.
This year has proven to be an incredibly exciting time for the future growth of the MHRP. In 2013 alone, the program saw a 50 percent increase in membership, adding 6 new members. Other highlights from the year include: the launch of the Equal Rights Learning Center® — a new online training platform for MHRP members — and the release of a new accessibility resource, the Fair Housing Act Checklist: A Guide to Accessible Design and Construction Compliance.
The MHRP also recently announced that American Standard Brands has joined the MHRP as the founding Associate member. As a leading manufacturer of high-quality products, American Standard’s membership in the MHRP opens a whole new chapter as to how the program’s members address accessibility. With the inclusion of product vendors who are committed to producing quality accessible products, and service vendors who are committed to accessibility, MHRP members are involved at every critical step of the multifamily development process.
Accessibility is a key issue that impacts the entire all housing industry. With our MHRP members, we always stress that building housing that everyone can access is not only the right thing to do, it’s also smart business. In the years to come, a greater percentage of our population will face a disability – perhaps due to aging, injury, the effects of recent wars, temporary or chronic illness, or a number of factors. By investing in the creation of truly accessible housing, housing industry leaders will not only make a wise financial investment, but provide housing that can be fully enjoyed by all.
As the MHRP continues to grow and expand, enhancing accessibility for all individuals will remain at the forefront of our agenda. We will continue our work until all people with disabilities have a place they can call home.