aPodment developer agrees to settle disabled access complaint over Capitol Hill building

13th and John's Centro (Image: Calhoun Properties)

13th and John’s Centro (Image: Calhoun Properties)

Critics of the dormitory-style apartment buildings known as microhousing are able to say, “I told you so!” about at least one of their myriad arguments against the developments.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced today a settlement with developer Calhoun Properties and architect ECCO Design over a complaint that their Capitol Hill aPodment project The Centro on E John at 13th “discriminated against persons with disabilities by failing to design and construct the 56-unit complex in a way that meets the accessibility requirements of the Fair Housing Act.”

From the HUD statement:

Under the terms of the agreement, the owner, builder and architectural firm will make modifications to the project’s public and common use areas and a unit to enhance accessibility.

In addition, the owner, builder, and architectural firm agreed to retain the services of an accessibility consultant to conduct onsite inspections of interiors of covered units in all their other recently constructed projects and to make all recommended accessibility retrofits.  The builder, architect, and other individuals responsible for accessible design features at the property will also attend Fair Housing Act design and construction training.

The agreement settles what the department calls “a HUD Secretary-initiated complaint” that Calhoun and ECOO designed and constructed units that do not comply with the Fair Housing Act’s design and construction requirements.

The HUD statement says an August 2013 inspection of the project revealed that units in the building were not accesible to people with disabilities:

For example, the project has walkways that are too steep; outlets and thermostatic controls that are too high to be reached by individuals using wheelchairs; doors with inaccessible thresholds; and bathrooms that do not contain enough space for people using wheelchairs.  HUD’s inspection also found that the complex has mailboxes that are too high to be reached by individuals using wheelchairs, and a common laundry room that is too narrow for wheelchair access.

It’s not clear yet what the settlement will mean for any of the eight other Calhoun-owned aPodment-style projects in the Capitol Hill area or any new projects in development. The settlement does stipulate that the companies “retain the services of an accessibility consultant” to inspect the properties.

Earlier this year, CHS reported on the ongoing backlash from some community groups against microhousing as an effort to hold up new regulations for the development type was denied by the Hearing Examiner. The new rules will subject microhousing to environmental and design review. Microhousing projects have flourished on Capitol Hill as rents and the demand for housing continue to rise.

8 thoughts on “aPodment developer agrees to settle disabled access complaint over Capitol Hill building

  1. How did this development ever get approval to be built, if their design lacked such basics as accomodations for the disabled? Hello? City Hall? Anyone?

    From HUD’s FAQs on the Fair Housing Act:

    “4.)Requirements for New Buildings

    “In buildings that are ready for first occupancy after March 13, 1991, and have an elevator and four or more units:

    “Public and common areas must be accessible to persons with disabilities
    “Doors and hallways must be wide enough for wheelchairs
    “All units must have:
    “An accessible route into and through the unit
    “Accessible light switches, electrical outlets, thermostats and other environmental controls
    “Reinforced bathroom walls to allow later installation of grab bars and
    “Kitchens and bathrooms that can be used by people in wheelchairs.

    “If a building with four or more units has no elevator and will be ready for first occupancy after March 13, 1991, these standards apply to ground floor units.

    “These requirements for new buildings do not replace any more stringent standards in State or local law.”

    • aPodment or not, this was a bone-head move. I’m not an architect, developer or city planner, but as the first post points out, these laws have been in effect for over 2 decades. Kinda makes me wonder about other laws/codes (like fire and earthquake) that aren’t reviewed properly. :/

    • I have no doubt that things were not built to code. As for the building on Boylston, they poured the foundation into at least one foot (likely deeper) of standing water. I talked to an architect friend about this after I saw them doing it, and he told me that would definitely affect the quality of the foundation.

  2. It’s about time that Calhoun Properties (no relation!) was held accountable for what they are doing to our neighborhood. The HUD settlement will cut into their bottom line, and it is karma in action. Boo-hoo, Calhoun, I feel so bad for you (Not!).

  3. They can also be death traps in the event of a fire. Can you imagine having to jump from the 6th floor because the 1 and only stair well is blocked by fire? Or being trampled in a stamped due to the lack of stairwell width.

    This is the downside of too many people living in a space that doesn’t have sufficient spacial planning to exit them in the event of a fire.

    http://www.kirotv.com/news/news/fire-exits-building-code-different-apodments/ncjwX/

  4. In response to the comments about accessibility, I think it goes back to the condition under how the aPodments are categorized under the Seattle Building Code. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m under the assumption most of the Calhoun Properties developments have shared kitchens, usually one per floor. The problem is that in the building code, a “unit” is typically defined by whether they have a full kitchen or not. If you’re under a certain quota (I want to estimate 3-4 “units” in one development), you are not seen as a true multi-family property, and are subject to less scrutiny for ADA compliance than defined in a typical apartment building. This definition of the “unit” count is also why aPodments usually have 0 required parking stalls, no elevator, and a host of other issues that fall in a grey area between being a full apartment building and a “single-family property”

    It’s pretty bogus, since the intent is clearly to accommodate 30-40 people per building. I think its clear negligence on the part of ECCO design to not fully design to ADA compliance.

    • I agree. A typical apodment is 48 separate apartments, 8 to a floor with a shared kitchen, 6 floors. So, the developer can get a permit by calling the building a “6-unit boarding house.” …..thereby skirting design and environmental review, as well as minimum parking…and, as this report points out, ADA requirements.

      The current situation, allowing developers to game the regulations in order to make a ton of money, is a total joke! Hopefully, the City Council will be fixing some of this…and it can’t happen too soon.

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