Report of the CIB Expert Seminar on Building Non-Handicapping
Environments, Budapest 1991
Peter A. Dunn, Ph.D., Faculty of Social Work, Wilfrid Laurier University,
Accessible housing legislation and policies: A framework for future policy development
A summary of these models
The barrier-free housing policy approaches which have evolved in the United
States and Canada reflect different ideological traditions and jurisdictional
arrangements. The United States has built upon its strong civil rights tradition
in formulating individual housing rights, while Canada's strength is its
national and provincial grant and loan programs to adapt existing housing.
Canada's grant and loan program can act as a safety-net reflective of a
British social welfare tradition. However, it is more difficult in Canada
than in the United States to create national civil rights for housing because
housing has been clearly delineated in the Canadian constitution as a responsibility
for the provinces.
The U.S. government has dramatically reduced its financing of new construction
of apartment buildings under the Republican administrations of Reagan and
Bush. With a growing anti-collectivist orientation the U.S. administration
has increasingly placed its emphasis upon the private sector including rapidly
expanding voucher and certificate programs for the "deserving poor"
to attempt to find and obtain housing in the private market place. In contrast,
the conservative federal government in Canada, although making cuts in several
significant government programs, has continued to subsidize substantial
numbers of new social housing units through its non-profit and cooperative
programs. CMHC has not embarked upon a voucher program similar to the U.S.
The U.S. has continued to rely upon a charity model of community services
to adapt the homes of certain qualified clients. A few grant and loan programs
have been started for a very limited group of people with disabilities in
the United States. In contrast Canada has developed an extensive grant and
loan program in which individuals are given funds to select their own contractors
to adapt their own homes.
In both the U.S. and Canada there is a wide discrepancy in regional building
codes which control the extent to which new and renovated multi- unit apartment
buildings are barrier-free. Not all of the states and provinces even have
building codes regulating accessibility in housing construction. However,
with the U.S. Fair Housing Amendments Act there is pressure for the states
to conform to federal standards to respond to civil rights legislation.
In fact, the civil rights approach in the United States requires special
attention because of its dramatic implications.
The development of civil rights for people with disabilities has created
sweeping changes in the United States. A civil rights approach to social
change is also very consistent with the philosophy of the independent living
movement of advocating for full economic, social and political participation
in society. Therefore, it is useful to compare in some more detail the strengths
and weaknesses of this approach in the United States and Canada and to consider
the implications for developing a civil rights emphasis in other countries.
For the purposes of this paper civil rights refers to laws which ensure
that individuals are not excluded from any public or private services or
programs (Percy, 1989). Civil rights do not include all legislation laws
and regulations related to individuals with disabilities such as housing
A civil rights approach
Figure 6 summarizes the history of civil rights related to housing for disabled
people in the United States and Canada. It is interesting to note that some
of these rights were established over 20 years ago in the United States
with a major impetus occurring in 1973 with the establishment of the Vocational
Rehabilitation Act. It then took approximately 15 years for HUD to translate
this legislation into their own specific barrier-free regulation for housing.
Some of these major civil rights developments occurred while there was a
conservative Republican President. President Nixon proclaimed the 1973 Vocational
Rehabilitation Act and President Reagan the FHAA. However, Percy (1989)
explains that President Reagan attempted to deregulate many of these civil
rights. However, disability advocates and pressure groups fought successfully
against most deregulation efforts.
Figure 6. Housing civil rights in the U.S. and Canada.
1968Architectural Barriers Board Act
Requires federal government construction to be accessible.
Section 502 establishes Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance
Section 504 requires federally funded programs to be accessible
1988HUD Finalizes its Section 504 Housing Regulations
1988Fair Housing Act Amendment (FHAA)
Starting in 1991 all new housing with 4+ units must be accessible and
have some adaptable features
Establishes laws for non-discrimination practices in selling and renting
housing to disabled people
Requires landlords to allow tenants to make modifications
1981Obstacles Report and government responses including CMHC established
program requirements that 5 per cent of all new federally financed units
1982Adoption of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
Section 15 prohibits discrimination on the basis of mental or physical
1985Implementation of the federal parliamentary Standing Committee on human
rights and the status of disabled persons
1989Adoption of the Ontario Human Rights Commission's Guidelines for Accommodating
People with Disabilities
All facilities and programs must accommodate the needs of people with
199?Work on a federal Omnibus Bill
Proposes amendments to existing federal legislation, rather than establishing
a separate law for disabled people
Figure 7. Issues to consider in adopting a civil rights approach.
I. The ideology of the country and government's receptivity.
II. The jurisdictional arrangements in a country.
III. The most effective form of civil rights.
IV. The potential strengths and strategies of pressure groups.
V. The implementation, monitoring of compliance with the laws and relobbying
by pressure groups where necessary.
It took Canada almost 10 years longer than the United States to implement
civil rights for disabled people. In 1982 the Canadian Charter of Rights
and Freedoms helped ensure that individuals with mental or physical handicaps
were not discriminated against. In 1985 the federal government established
the Court Challenges Program which provided funding through the non-profit
Canadian Council on Social Development to challenge existing laws which
did not conform to the social principles of the Charter. It took approximately
7 years after the Charter before Ontario led the provinces in translating
the federal law into provincial guidelines for people with disabilities.
Anderson (1989) points out that these Ontario guidelines have some advantages
and disadvantages in comparison with the FHAA regulations. They do not specify
specific minimum accessibility standards for program or service; however,
they do require that the environment and service accommodate the unique
needs of each disabled individual.
A great deal of the progress in the development of federal Canadian policies
occurred as the result of the report Obstacles published during the International
Year of Disabled Persons in 1981 and in response to follow up federal reports
which have assessed inadequacies in federal programs and legislation. The
Standing Committee on Human Rights and Disabled Persons was established
by Parliament as an ongoing Federal legislative committee to assess the
responses of federal government departments and make recommendations to
Figure 7 outlines some factors that might be considered in developing a
civil rights approach in any country. Clearly it is important to determine
if the country, people and government are receptive to civil rights legislation.
Many advances in civil rights have occurred in liberal democracies (George
and Wildings, 1985). Plus, it is useful to ascertain if there are any existing
jurisdictional constitutional arrangements which might impede or promote
this type of legislation. It is vital to determine the specific forms of
civil rights legislation which should be adopted. Should there be one inclusive
bill, several new laws or an omnibus bill to amend existing legislation?
Developing a comprehensive pressure group campaign is very important in
bringing about these changes. Percy (1989) also points out that implementation
and monitoring of civil rights legislation is often very difficult, but
it is crucial in creating any effective social change. He stresses that
it is very important how laws are translated into action. He also explains
that pressure groups may need to be reactivated in order to ensure effective
implementation of policies. Policies are very dynamic in their implementation
and require special attention.
Figure 8. Ideal principles for civil rights for barrier-free housing.
Civil Rights Should Stress:
That all existing and new public, private and non-profit housing be barrier-free
including single family homes.
That individuals have the right to make individual or group complaints and
that the implementing organization have the right to initiate complaints
on behalf of disabled people.
That civil rights target building codes, so that buildings are inspected
for compliance with barrier-free regulations prior to and after construction,
That severe fines and effective enforcement procedures be established.
That adaptable as well as accessible housing standards be mandated.
Finally, Figure 8 outlines some potential principles for civil rights legislation.
These principles are possible goals for this type of legislation which may
not all be politically feasible, but at least plots out a possible course
of action to consider, change and/or refine. These principles stress that
all housing sectors should be barrier-free. Civil rights legislation should
attempt to ensure that monitoring organizations can advocate and initiate
their own complaints as well as responding to ones initiated by individual
consumers. Civil rights should also focus upon building codes, so that buildings
are inspected for compliance to barrier-free regulations prior to construction
and do not have to rely solely upon complaints after construction. Finally,
research studies indicate that adaptable housing is more effective and useful
to a whole range of people than mandating that a certain percentage of units
be accessible (Steinfield, 1979). Therefore, civil rights legislation should
mandate adaptable housing standards.
Strong civil rights laws which are effectively implemented and enforced
can have a dramatic effect in making housing barrier-free. These laws can
establish a basic right to barrier-free housing and thereby impact upon
other existing and future legislation. Such legislation can give individuals
the backing and support to file a legal complaint and to hopefully have
their housing modified to accommodate their disability. Civil rights legislation
can also serve as a legal safety-net for individuals to complain when their
home is not accessible as well as to facilitate proactive measures. Nevertheless,
a civil rights approach has several limitations.
Governments may not be receptive to this kind of policy approach. Jurisdictional
arrangements may make civil rights laws hard to adopt or implement. Civil
rights legislation does not address the amount of new public, non-profit
and private housing which a government may finance although it can affect
the percentage of new units which will be barrier-free. If a government
is cutting back upon the overall financing of housing construction civil
rights laws are limited in addressing these reductions. Unless civil rights
laws can impact housing codes and regulations, these efforts may depend
upon complaints after construction is complete.
In terms of the FHAA this law did not have an impact upon existing housing,
or future single family homes. Approximately 51 per cent of the individuals
who require home modifications are single family homeowners (Dunn, 1985).
Potentially civil rights legislation could affect those sectors; however,
with a strong building industry lobby it may be difficult to ensure that
existing homes are barrier-free without grant and loan incentives. Civil
rights laws can not help poor people adapt their existing homes. Grants
and loan programs might be far more effective in addressing existing single
family homes. Nevertheless, civil rights has a great potential for impacting
housing as has been demonstrated through recent policy efforts in the United
There appears to be no one ideal approach which countries can undertake
to ensure that housing is barrier-free. Barriers in housing can severely
limit an individual's ability to live independently and to participate actively
in the community. Social change requires identifying a future societal arrangement
and carefully considering alternative courses of action to achieve these
goals. It is important to understand the unique ideology and culture in
a country and its jurisdictional arrangements. Recommending a social change
approach from one country which should be adopted by all nations is egocentric
and has proven ineffective in social development efforts throughout the
world. In fact, even programs and policies which are adopted from another
country usually need to be modified to fit the context of a different political,
economic and social environment.
A framework for future development
Therefore, what is recommended is a process of policy development. It is
first useful to assess the barrier-free housing issues in a country. For
example, Ratzka (1984) explains that in Sweden special elevators are needed
to make the extensive number of three story walkup apartment buildings accessible.
Then it is necessary to develop some guiding principles or overall goals
of a national barrier-free housing policy. It may be useful to identify
the types of housing or sectors which need to be tackled. Different policy
options then can be identified and selected perhaps based upon their potential
impact, feasibility in relation to ideology and jurisdictional arrangements
and effectiveness in addressing the overall housing issues. It is likely
that since so many complex issues must be addressed that more than one policy
approach may be necessary. It is crucial to mobilize support, lobby and
ensure that effective policies are adopted. It will be necessary to monitor
implementation and compliance of policies. Finally it is important to evaluate
the effectiveness of these programs and, if necessary, relobby for social
Figure 9. Principles for a barrier-free housing policy:
A housing rights agenda.
I. Basic rights:
That individuals with disabilities have a right to barrier-free housing.
II. Universal coverage:
That this right be for people with any type of disability, in any location
in a country and irrespective of level of income.
III. Minimum standard (quality):
That a minimum housing standard be established which ensures accessibility
and adaptability housing.
IV. Comprehensiveness (quantity):
That comprehensive laws and policies be developed and implemented for all
housing sectors and ensure adequate quantity of barrier-free housing.
V. Other housing issues:
That other housing issues be effectively tackled including the need for
affordable safe housing with adequate community supports and positive landlord
and tenant attitudes which promote independent living.
Figure 9 provides an example of the types of principles which might be formulated
for a housing rights agenda. These rights are not necessarily strictly civil
rights, but rights to the resources of a barrier-free housing environment.
These principles stress universal coverage, minimum standards based upon
adaptable housing regulations and comprehensive policies. They emphasize
the importance of dealing with the quantity as well as quality of resources.
Figure 10. One possible policy approach.
Comprehensive housing policies
I. National civil rights for barrier-free housing
(For individual and collective issues and to guide policy)
II. Universal barrier-free housing codes and programs
(For new construction and renovations)
III. A national comprehensive housing adaptation program
(For existing housing and to act as a safety net)
Community involvement and control
IV. Community information on rights and programs
(Information on consumers rights and programs)
V. Consumer involvement in services
(Involve consumers in policies, housing adaptation services and management)
Finally this agenda explains that other related housing issues must be dealt
with including: affordability, safety, discrimination, neighborhood supports
and attitudes of tenants and landlords.
One possible approach in achieving these goals is outlined in Figure 10.
It emphasizes civil rights which can help create barrier-free housing including
single family homes and to act as an instrument to guide policy; adaptable
housing codes to deal with new construction and renovations; and a national
comprehensive grants and loan program to renovate existing homes and to
act as a safety-net. This approach also highlights the need to extensively
disseminate information about programs and rights and to ensure that consumers
are involved in all aspects of the development and implementation of policies
Nevertheless, it is vital for countries to assess their own issues determine
their goals and select the most effective policy approaches. Creating social
change takes a considerable amount of time, energy and commitment. Although
an overall comprehensive approach may be formulated incremental opportunities
for change may also be very expedient. However, it is important to develop
a comprehensive plan which can provide a framework for future policy development
and help ensure that the housing environment is responsive to all of our
present and future needs.
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