Universal Design and Habitat for Humanity: the start of a great partnership

April 29, 2010 at 7:04 am 4 comments

Habitat for Humanity is a non-profit Christian housing ministry that was founded in 1976 by Millard Fuller.  Their mission is to “…develop communities with people in need by building and renovating houses so that there are decent houses in decent communities…”.  Per the website, they have built over 350,000 houses around the world.  

It is with this background information that I was surprised to see an article titled, “Habitat Prepares to Build its First Universal Design Home in the U.S.”.  My first instinct was to applaud the efforts of Habitat, but my next question was, why has this not been done before now? 

The house is to be built in Birmingham, Alabama to promote aging-in-place.  The local builder assisting with the project is a NAHB Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist (CAPS) as well as a Certified Green Professional (CGP).  

One of the main criteria to be selected as a “partner family” with Habitat for Humanity is “families in need of decent shelter”.  One might anticipate that if there is a family that is being assisted by Habitat, that they may stay in that home for quite some time, if not as long as possible.  This is aging-in-place.  These are the families that can absolutely benefit from having universal design features integrated into their homes from the beginning, as retrofitting and later stage modifications may not be financially possible.  Of course, even with the addition of some universal design features, there may be the future need for individual modifications for maximum accessibility, but why not start all the projects with the idea that the resident is going to age-in-place? 

It’s similar to the “Give a man a fish” saying…..I say, build a man a house, shelter him for a while, build a man a house with universal design/aging in place/accessibility features, shelter him for his lifetime.

Entry filed under: Aging-In-Place design. Tags: , , , , , , , .

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Cindy Monk  |  April 29, 2010 at 9:49 am

    This project was the idea of the 50+ Housing Council with the Greater Birmingham Builders Assoc. When I started the council in 2009 I was surprized that more builders didn’t embrace building with AIP specifications but then I realized more builders don’t want their home owners to stay in a home as long as possilbe. They want the home owner to grow out of the home and then buy bigger and better. I do understand and respect their reasoning. But AIP is going to be a force that will take over a large part of future building and remodeling due to the number of Boomers turning 65 next year and for years to come.

  • 2. Gael Tannenbaum  |  April 30, 2010 at 8:54 am

    Perhaps Habitat for Humanity would have done better for their beneficiaries had they planned with universal design in mind all along, but I am thrilled to hear that they are beginning to embrace it now. I hope that it is picked up by news sources all over the country so that AIP and Universal Design gets the press it so deserves. A well-known organization like Habitat could help get the public thinking and accepting the idea of building homes for the long term. (Interesting, Cindy, the idea of ‘planned obsolescence’; builders designing their homes NOT to be lived in for longer periods! As marketers of their product, I too can understand their reasoning, but I hope that builders are now beginning to see more desire for AIP features, thus making it the new marketing strategy).

  • 3. Vivian Turner Davis  |  May 6, 2010 at 10:37 am

    I am thrilled to hear about Habitat for Humanity doing their first Universal Design house. I have been working on issues around accessible/affordable housing for individuals with disabilities in Delaware for 10 years and was disappointed to learn several years ago that Habitat did not use UD in their design. I hope this pilot home quickly becomes a standard practice because Universal Design is good for all and quite inexpensive when initiated at the construction stage.

  • 4. Julee Lockard  |  February 4, 2011 at 1:35 am

    Rebuilding Together is similar organization that completes home repairs and modifications to existing properties. AOTA has partnered with RT and has a goal of having an OT involved in each chapter (if I remember that correctly from last year’s AOTA conference). The home scoping process is a team effort to choose families/properties appropriate for the services. I believe it is the perfect opportunity for OTs to become involved and educate the public on OTs value in home modifications. I’m still trying to become involved in my local chapter but hope to participate in Rebuiliding day the end of April.


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