An affordable housing project opening Wednesday that’s said to be the first of its kind in the United States has caught the eye of a Calgary housing group.
The University Neighbourhood Apartments in Berkeley, Calif. is said to be the first to utilize universal design, which aims to make buildings more accessible to people with limited mobility.
"The apartment project is a really good idea, but I’d like to know how far they go with universal design," says Alan Nakatsui, technical advisor for Calgary’s Accessible Housing Society. "The term has become a buzzword for a wide range of residential uses."
Universal design aims to create homes with built-in flexibility, enabling their continued use by people regardless of age or ability. Located near San Francisco, the project consists of 27 two- and three-bedroom suites, with commercial/retail space on the ground floor.
Residents began moving in last weekend and the affordable apartment project is slated to hold its official grand opening Wednesday. Features include wide doorways and hallways, extra floor space to allow for a large turning radius for things like wheelchairs, push/pull lever faucets for people with limited hand strength, and roll-in showers. All the units in the University Neighbourhood Apartments are reserved for low-income families, with 14 of them dedicated to disabled individuals and their families.
The project was created by Affordable Housing Associates, a non-profit organization founded in 1993 that aims to create high-quality, affordable housing communities. The University Neighbourhood Apartments were undertaken in partnership with Hearth Homes Community Building of Berkeley. The non-profit organization was founded in 1997 by a woman who experienced first-hand the problems faced by universal design when her husband began to lose his mobility due to multiple sclerosis. Due to things like stairs, narrow doorways and high thresholds on showers, she and her husband had to move out of their home.
"At that time, the concept of universal design did not exist," says the website of Hearth Homes. "Anyone who has experienced dramatic changes in health and mobility knows the challenges that arise every day from living in spaces that are not adapted to their needs." People with special needs usually tend to be segregated into separate facilities away from their loved ones or the community at large, says executive director Susan Friedland of Affordable Housing Associates.
"We are strengthening families through universal design," she says in a news release. "Counter to that trend, this project creates an integrated community for people of all abilities through our design-for-all facilities."
Calgary’s Accessible Housing Society provides affordable, barrier-free housing for a wide range of special needs clients. Nakatsui likes the fact the California project has been able to blend affordability with integration as well as adding a commercial/retail element to make shopping more convenient. "A year or two ago, we attempted to get a project going in Bridgeland that combined residential with retail on the ground floor, but we were unsuccessful," he says.
Affordable Housing Associates has built some 500 affordable housing units and has another 350 in development in the San Francisco area. The organization is the builder and property manager of the University Neighbourhood Apartments, with Hearth Homes organizing services as well as staffing community-building activities.
The project was designed by Kava Massih Architects. Founded in 1996, the award-winning California company "seeks inventive solutions in the use of materials, structural systems and design concept to maximize each project’s potential," says its website. The University Neighborhood Apartments shows that "affordable housing does not have to be ordinary," says Kava Massih, principal of Kava Massih Architects, in a news release. "This is a modern building with deep roots in the tradition of turn-of-the-century apartment buildings in the Bay Area" of San Francisco, he says.
For more information, visit the websites of Affordable Housing Associates (www.ahainc.org), or that of Hearth Homes Community Building
The University Neighbourhood Apartments include the following features:
Affordability rents will range from 30-60 per cent of median income of the area. The median is the middle income when all are arranged from highest to lowest.
Apartment size The 27 units consist of 11 three-bedroom units, 14 two-bedroom units, three one-bedroom units, and a studio.
Accessibility All 27 units were constructed using the principles of universal design, making them 100 per cent accessible.
Inclusion 14 units will be occupied by tenants with disabilities.
Mixed use the apartments will be built above commercial space and parking.
Community space a large community room is to be constructed featuring an accessible kitchen, computers, a central courtyard, and a small open roof garden.
The creation of activities that also create a community things like computer training programs, co-operative child care, organization of common meals, exercise classes, movies and birthday parties.
Individual services Toolworks, an established service provider, will organize services for tenants with special needs.
Neighborhood design successful neighborhood collaboration in architectural design.
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