Blogging Bayport Alameda

February 13, 2017

Unintended consequences

Filed under: Alameda — Lauren Do @ 6:03 am

Tonight at the Planning Board, the Universal Design Ordinance is on the agenda for a study session.  In general I’m very supportive of Universal Design, particularly in new construction units, but I am a bit concerned about some portions of the Universal Design Ordinance. Not from an accessibility stand point, but from an affordability point.

Already Alameda and the Bay Area as a whole has large swaths of areas that are unaffordable.  Rents have softened in some areas, but that is a softening from an unsustainable high.  Still housing sale prices are insane right now, so the alternatives for housing are pretty limited for people looking for housing right now.

Here’s the part I’m concerned about in the Universal Design Ordinance:

 “The 100% Requirement”. (Section 18.4.a) Every new unit built in Alameda should be “visitable” by a visitor with mobility issues and provide for “the basic needs of a wide range of guests to enter and use critical portions of the home, to the greatest extent possible.” Section 18.4.a requires that a visitor can get to the front door, get though the front door, access a bedroom or common visiting area, access a ground floor open space, and use the bathroom without having to negotiate stairs. The other bedrooms and bathrooms, the kitchen, and all other spaces within the home can be on upper levels accessed by stairs.

On its face it sounds fine.  Visitors should be able to access people’s home.  That is a laudable goal.  However, this is what it means from a practical standpoint:

• Eliminate the raised front porch from Alameda’s future housing stock and will require changes to the City of Alameda Residential Design Guidelines which encourages stoops and raised front porches on new homes, which are typical of Alameda’s Victorians and Craftsman Bungalows. Stairs leading up to the front door of a new home would no longer be permitted under the proposed “100% Requirement”.

Not that big of a deal, a raised front porch.  Well, the design guide will need to be changed, but again, no big deal from an added cost to the housing unit perspective.

• Eliminate the “walk-up” from Alameda’s future housing stock. Almost every existing residential unit above Webster Street and Park Street commercial buildings is accessed by a staircase leading to a front door at the sidewalk. Additionally, the new affordable housing project under construction at Alameda Landing includes two-story townhomes on the second and third floors which are accessed from a staircase leading up to the unit from the front door on the street. Stairs leading from a front door on the street up to a dwelling unit on the second or third floor would no longer be permitted under the proposed “100% Requirement”.

This is a problem.  Because it would require small projects like a commercial district “bottom retail, top residential” unit to put in an elevator which is a huge added cost because of the maintenance on the elevator and the space required to install one.  Additionally, nearly all the multi-family units that have been constructed under Alameda’ inclusionary housing requirement have second floor units that are not accessed by an elevator because of the additional costs to install and maintain an elevator.  This would make affordable housing projects even more expensive to build which would either reduce the number of affordable housing units available to be offered or it would make units that would be affordable by design (second story residential over commercial) increase in cost exponentially putting it on par with new market rate construction as opposed to legacy buildings in Alameda.

• Generally require slightly larger lots for all townhomes, since all townhomes will be required to have a bathroom and a bedroom or sitting area on the ground floor in addition to the typical garage and staircase leading upstairs to the primary living areas.

Bigger lots = more expensive overall.

Again, I think the overall idea is good, but the 100% should be examined more closely through an affordability lens.  I don’t think that the goal of this Universal Design ordinance is to help further price out families from Alameda, but as it stands in its current form that might be the result.


  1. Agreed. I think something like 50% of all projects over 50 units, or something like that, should be required. This visit ability standard has basically the same level of requirements that the livable units would.

    Comment by BMac — February 13, 2017 @ 7:55 am

  2. Many disabled people do not start life disabled. They acquire disability via a traffic accident, or other injury or coming back from armed conflict. They may already own a home which they will have to leave if it cannot be modified to accommodate their new needs. At the same time, the disabled person usually sees a great loss of income and often an inability to return to their former line of work. They will almost certainly be underemployed compared to before the disability.
    Physically disabled persons make up a significant percentage of those needing affordable housing. More thought must be given to the needs of the people who will actually live in and move between new housing units. This situation is a great example of why you cannot solve the housing shortage simply by making all new units smaller and stacked on top of one another.
    An accident resulting in permanent physical disability could happen to anyone, of any income, at any time. You or any of your friends or relatives, Hence the rationale behind the “100% requirement”.

    Comment by vigi — February 13, 2017 @ 9:28 am

    • In fact, making smaller units that are stacked on top of one another is exactly how you get most of the units to be accessible to folks w/ mobility issues. It is how you end up with elevators and all living space on the same floor. I have followed the UD process all along. For units that cannot be built to be accessible on day one, there are features that can usually be included in the building phase to make them adaptable if/when a resident needs to add accessibility features w/out completely overhauling the home.
      There are many needs that must be balanced. Just like we should not burden every single person who does not own a car w/ the requirement to have two off street parking spaces and a backyard, we should not make everybody pay for an elevator if it is not practical or affordable.
      I would be happy to see a clause that says a resident of a non-accessible unit that demonstrates a need can get waivers for other requirements in order to affordably make their unit work for them (ie- garage conversion/parking requirements).

      Comment by BMac — February 13, 2017 @ 9:42 am

    • It’s pretty easy to say that every new constructed unit should be 100% accessible to visitors when you won’t be impacted by the cost of the housing unit.

      As BMac pointed out stacked housing units are the most cost efficient way to build 100% accessible housing, if the City wants a 100% visitor accessible policy then they should make some concessions as to tradeoffs to decrease the price per unit if the expectation is to add policy that will increase the cost of a housing unit.

      Comment by Lauren Do — February 13, 2017 @ 9:56 am

  3. As I expected, when it comes to civil rights of the disabled, again we meet Clueless Do. There is this Federal law…you may have heard of it, or perhaps your children have, since it was passed so long ago it is getting to be almost ancient history. It’s called the ADA. Been around more than 25 years. Been amended a few times, and each time, the amendment makes the ADA broader & stronger. Owning or using a car is a choice; physical disability is never a choice. Therefore, it is not unreasonable that government and/or society should bear the cost of integrating disabled persons into society and taking steps to ensure they are not excluded.

    Lauren Do, you have been such a champion of reparations for African-Americans & Asian-Americans for past mistreatment; standing with our undocumented immigrants and Muslims to make sure “Everyone Belongs Here”…how is it you seem to miss the point completely when it comes to physically disabled persons? [or as we call ourselves, crips.]. When it comes to poor oppressed able-bodied minorities, you want society to pay for injustice, but for crips, you want to count the cost?

    You want to make decisions for us, not with us.

    And disability is so egalitarian. It strikes persons regardless of age, sex, nationality, color, religion…Therefore, everyone should bear the cost of disability accommodations.

    Bmac…so clueless, subscribes to the same ableist cliche that disabled people don’t drive or use cars. Please remove yourself from the discussion. You are not helping. Pick up a copy of New Mobility magazine and educate yourself. Cars are long distance wheelchairs for us crips, who cannot walk the distance between a bus stop and any destination. In fact, physically disabled persons should get preference when it comes to handing out garage & parking spaces, especially if they own a van conversion or vehicle fitted with hand controls. .

    Elevators break. Every time the one in the library is out of order, I have to ask someone on staff to carry my walker upstairs to the computers. They are happy to help, but the crips using power chairs are just out of luck. Imagine what it is like when the elevator fails in an unattended area, like your residence.Ramps are much better..

    Comment by vigi — February 13, 2017 @ 11:03 am

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