Promoting VisitAbility in Pennsylvania
What is VisitAbility?
The concept of VisitAbility was inspired by Eleanor Smith, founder of an initiative begun by a small local disability group in Atlanta, Georgia known as Concrete Change. Concrete Change drafted an ordinance to make homes visitable, which passed in 1992. What makes a home visitable? There are three main criteria: a one no-step entrance into a home, doorways with at least 32 inch clear space and a first floor powder room large enough to accommodate a person in a wheelchair.
Concrete Change was the basis for VisitAbility in Pennsylvania. VisitAbility in PA, begun by Life and Independence for Today (LIFT) in St. Marys, PA, a movement to enhance user-friendliness of all homes to include the needs of everyone through wise design choices and decisions.
VisitAbility features are good for everyone. It allows people with disabilities to visit people in their homes, is easier for people pushing strollers, moving furniture, and for people who want to age in their homes. There are other visitable features that are easy to include, such as installing light switches no higher than 48 inches above the finished floor and including blocking in the bathroom walls so that grab bars may be added at a later date.
A VisitAbility Ordinance was passed in Pittsburgh in 2004 that was modeled after the Atlanta Ordinance. The purpose of the Pittsburgh ordinance is to offer tax credits to encourage new, renovated, single family homes, duplexes, triplexes, townhomes, row houses and adapted reuses of industrial and commercial buildings that can be renovated or converted for multifamily residential use, to build in VisitAbility features to enhance both VisitAbility and usability for visitors and residents.
In Pittsburgh, in order to get tax credits, when applying for a building permit the homeowner must indicate intent to install the visitable features and notify the zoning officer, and submit drawings and specifications of the visitable design. After the improvements have been completed, the owner must notify the Bureau of Building Inspection in order to get certification of completion. At that time, the owner can apply for tax credits of up to $2,500 with the city treasurer, which will be given toward property taxes assessed by the city on the visitable residence. What happened in Pittsburgh was the impetus for Senate Bill 1158, The Residential VisitAbility Design Tax Credit Act, (the Act).
The Residential VisitAbility Design Tax Credit Act
The Act, which was introduced by Senator Ferlo and Senator Rhoades, was signed into law by Governor Rendell on October 28th, 2006. Briefly, it is an incentive based approach that offers property owners a $2,500 tax credit per housing unit which is available to homeowners of new construction and rehabilitation. This legislation must be administered by a governing body such as municipalities or school boards. The Act paves the way for municipalities to provide tax credits to citizens. The Act can be found at www.legis.state.pa.us in the section entitled ‘Acts on General Legislation approved in 2006’.
SDHP received a Quality of Life grant for $5,500 from the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation to promote VisitAbility by ensuring that taxing entities – counties, municipalities and school districts – are aware of the Act and understand that individually or jointly, they can voluntarily authorize tax credits of up to $2,500 per housing unit to homeowners for new construction or renovation that includes visitable features.