Bill would give Ohioans grants to make homes more accessible

By Jim Siegel

The Columbus Dispatch  •  Wednesday July 29, 2015 6:46 AM

A pair of central Ohio lawmakers are proposing $5,000 grants to help people make their homes more accessible, while advocates for the disabled say a new study shows people appreciate those modifications more than some might think.

A growing number of baby boomers are aging and having difficulty getting around, but the Ohio Developmental Disabilities Council says few homes have been built with “visitable” features such as wider doorways, sloped entrances and first-floor bathrooms.

The council said a new statewide survey of homeowners, buyers, realtors and developers found strong consumer demand for such features. Executive Director Carolyn Knight hopes the numbers push back against perceptions among home builders and designers that such features are not desirable.

“There have been a lot of claims around what consumers actually want and are willing to pay for,” she said. “This study shows that the cost is not prohibitive and that Ohio consumers, when given the option, actually want visitable features.”

In the statewide survey, a plurality of homeowners and majority of homebuyers said such features would allow a house to sell for more, and a plurality of both said they would prefer to buy a home with those features.

The survey also got positive responses from the real-estate industry, which generally found homes with such features to be more valuable and easier to sell.

“They thought the houses with the visitable features were more desirable, more livable,” said Jack Nasar, professor emeritus of city and regional planning at Ohio State University and prime author of the study.

“You’ve seen houses where they put a wooden ramp way up. That is not aesthetically pleasing. If you do it right at the beginning, you can do a well-designed, aesthetically pleasing house.”

Advocates want to encourage home builders to more often offer buyers wider doorways and sloped entrances. The current numbers are very small, Nasar said, and speculative homebuilders very rarely offer the options.

Adding the three features when a home is being built increases the cost by $1,370, but adding the features later costs more than $5,000, he said.

Reps. Cheryl Grossman, R-Grove City and Michael Stinziano, D-Columbus, this week introduced a bill that would create a $1 million annual program to provide grants up to $5,000 to help homeowners, contractors and others pay for improved accessibility. Specific guidelines would be determined by the Ohio Development Services Agency.

“The goal is to keep people in their homes, which is so important to each of us, rather than be put in some kind of care facility,” Grossman said, who got a taste of the difficulties of getting around when she broke her leg three years ago.

Both the Building Industry Association of Central Ohio and the Ohio Home Builders Association said they have no problems with the legislation as long as it doesn’t try to mandate certain features.

“If customers want to put something in the home, they can pick whatever they want. But it’s very difficult to foresee every possible disability and accommodation that would accompany that,” said Vincent Squillace, executive vice president of the Home Builders Association.

A sloped entrance to a home could get expensive, he said. “There could be some city zoning requirements that make it more difficult.”

Grossman and Stinziano proposed a similar bill last session as a tax credit instead of a grant. New tax credits often run into opposition from those who do not want to further complicate the tax code.

“Part of our challenge has been, what is the right number?” Stinziano said, adding that they looked at Virginia, which started with a $1,000 grant, but few used it because it was too low. “So $5,000 seemed to be the sweet spot.”