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Visit-ability Success Story

Visit-ability Testimonies Increase Affordable, Accessible Housing in Montana

Finding accessible housing is a major challenge for people with disabilities who want to live in the community. Accessibility is defined by federal and state laws such as the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988. A lack of accessibility in housing can lead to greater possibility of falls, decreased independence, and isolation.

In 2010, the Montana Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) found that one in four Montana adults had a limitation due to health problems, and/or they required special equipment. However, less than 20% of Montana homes had, as a minimum standard, an accessible entrance (Seekins, Traci, Ravesloot, & Oreskovich, 2010).

The need for accessible housing may become even greater as the population of Montana ages. Typically, a person’s chance of having a disability increases with age. In 2010, 15% of Montanans were age 65 and older; by 2030, projections indicate that one in four Montanans will be age 65 and older (U.S. Census Bureau). Visitability is a Healthy People 2020 objective.

In 2008, the Montana Disability and Health Program (MTDH) and the Montana Independent Living (IL) Housing Task Force began promoting visitability in housing. A visitable home is designed to provide hospitality to people with disabilities and includes three features: a step-less entrance, a 32” wide entry door, and a bathroom on the main floor that has enough space for a wheelchair to turn around.

In 2010, MTDH in partnership with the Montana IL Housing Task Force developed a Visitability Testimonial survey where people are asked to share their experiences with visitable housing. MTDH uses the collected visitability testimonies as a resource in the Visitability toolkit for its statewide educational campaign. MTDH Accessibility Ambassadors have educated approximately 8,300 consumers, builders, architects, policy makers, and other housing stakeholders about visitability as an alternative for home design.

Collecting personal testimonies:The Montana Independent Living Housing Task Force and the Montana Disability and Health Program (MTDH) collected online testimonies about visitable housing. These testimonies were used to educate housing stakeholders about visitability throughout Montana. Here is one testimony:

In 2005, I purchased my first home. As a young man in my late 20s, I did not have an issue that my home was a tri-level.  In 2007, I became disabled. Because of this disability, I have been in a wheelchair and forearm crutches. I have fallen multiple times trying to navigate the stairs in my home. This led to stitches, CT scans, ER visits, and glass in my eyes. I do not have the funds to fix my home, and I owe the bank too much to be able to sell it and move. ~ Montana Resident

The Montana IL Housing Task Force presented the collected testimonies as public comment on Montana’s Qualified Allocation Plans (QAP) and its Consolidated Plan. A state’s annual QAP outlines the selection criteria for distribution of Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC). Additionally, Montana is required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to produce a five-year Consolidated Plan and an annual action plan to receive funds from the Community Block Grant (CDBG), Emergency Shelter Grant (ESG), HOME Investment Partnerships Program (HOME), and Housing Options for People With AIDS (HOPWA) grant programs.

Visitability Testimonies and comments from contractors and other housing experts supported the following policy changes and proposed changes in Montana:

• As of 2011, all ground floor units built with LIHTC funds are required to have step-less entries.
• The 2012 QAP has a requirement for a visitable bathroom (e.g., 30″ x 48″ turning radius).
• The proposed 2012 Montana HOME Program and Community Development Block Grant Program (CDBG) rules require, rather than encourage, enhanced accessibility features (including all three visitability features) for HOME- and CDBG-assisted units.

For information on opportunities to provide public comment on policy changes, visit  http://housing.mt.gov/.

Habitat for Humanity, a non-ecumenical Christian Housing ministry, builds and rehabilitates simple, decent houses alongside homeowner (partner) families throughout the U.S. Habitat affiliates in Missoula and Butte have adopted visitability minimum standards for all future housing projects.

For more information on visitability, visit www.concretechange.org.

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