In 1988, with amendment of the Fair Housing Act, all multi-family developments were required to be built with accessible features. However, single-family homes were exempt from this requirement. In 2000, the City of Philadelphia’s Office of Housing and Community Development (OHCD) began to require visitable features in a portion of both single-family and multi-family new construction housing development projects supported with City funding. Soon after that time, input from advocates resulted in a visitability requirement in all OHCD-supported new construction housing development projects, including both rental and homeownership.
To further these efforts, representatives from the aging, disability-rights, and housing fields, formally organized as the Philadelphia Visitability Committee in 2002. The goal of the Committee was to expand Visitability through an ordinance that would require all new single-family housing construction in Philadelphia to be developed as visitable. As Visitability is now required in developments receiving public support, the goals of the Committee have expanded to include educational opportunities designed to increase Visitability across the income spectrum.
Since that time, the Committee and its members have engaged in a range of efforts to increase the number of visitable housing units and provide education and awareness around the importance of Visitability, including the need for and benefits of visitable housing.
Visitability advancements include:
- 850 Visitable units funded through Philadelphia’s Office of Housing and Community Development (OHCD). OHCD’s Consolidated Plan requires Visitability in all multi-family housing and homeownership projects developed through City funding.
- 1078 Visitable units funded through Philadelphia’s Housing Trust Fund: In 2005, City Council established Philadelphia’s Housing Trust Fund in order to create a dedicated and ongoing funding stream to support neighborhood stabilization and revitalization. Specifically, the Trust Fund provides resources for the development of new affordable homes, the preservation and repair of existing occupied homes, and the prevention of homelessness. All new construction must be made visitable, unless a waiver is obtained.
- Innovative Visitable design schemes developed through a Design Charrette: In October 2010, the Philadelphia Visitability Committee partnered with the Community Design Collaborative to host a design charrette in order to explore the principles of Visitability in the context of new infill housing in urban neighborhoods. A design charrette is a collaborative brainstorming session in which a group of architects and other professionals develop solutions to a design problem, drawing upon the aptitudes and insights of a diverse group of people.
Over 40 architects participated in the event, and determined that Visitability provides interesting opportunities to build new physical and social connections within neighborhoods, resulting in more inclusive, livable communities. Furthermore, participants concluded that in a high-density urban setting, while a zero-step front entrance demands a more sophisticated design strategy, it results in a more rewarding pedestrian experience. A summary of the report from the Charrette can be viewed at: http://www.newsontap.org/downloads/Visitability_for_Urban_Neighborhoods_(Design_Charrette)-Final_Report.pdf
- Visitability was included in Philadelphia’s updated Zoning Code: Members of the Committee gave testimony about the importance of including Visitability in the revised Zoning Code. The new Code, adopted in 2011, requires Visitability in “any subdivision containing 50 or more detached, semi-detached or attached houses, at least 10% of the houses shall be visitable dwelling units”.
- Visitability and Flexible Housing included in the Philadelphia Corporation for the Aging’s (PCA) Agency Plans: PCA’s State-Mandated Area Plan for 2012-2016 states that the agency will advocate for more affordable, visitable, and accessible housing in order to “promote a physical environment, especially housing, public space, and neighborhood infrastructure that supports older adults so they can age in the community”. Visitability is also included in PCA’s Laying the Foundation for an Age-friendly Philadelphia.
- Educational materials developed: The Philadelphia Visitability Committee has developed a Visitability Booklet, PowerPoint Presentation, and other Visitability-focused educational materials in order to educate community groups, trade organizations, and the public. Committee members have provided presentations on Visitability at community forums and individual groups, including the Building Industry Association (BIA).