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“A Jewel” Surprisingly, in its 27 years, This Old House had never before filmed a project in the nation’s capital. They’d also never selected a house without knowing who would be living in it. Just before filming wrapped, the house was sold to a couple who came to the U.S. from El Salvador and had been living, with their four children, in cramped quarters. This Old House producer Deborah Hood, who chose the house for the show, recalls that the family came by to see the house on the day of the final taping. “They were overwhelmed,” she said. “So were we.”

“Genell had a great vision for the house,” continued Hood. “She saw that it could be dramatic, and she was absolutely right. It is a jewel.” Fernando Lemos of Mi Casa has completed about a half-dozen projects with Anderson. He adds, “Above all, [Genell] believes that low-income people should not have to have boring houses.”


By John Droutsas3

The number of claims launched against design firms for alleged violations of the federal Fair Housing Act and Americans with Disabilities Act are on the rise. To lessen the chance of becoming the next target of a claim related to these acts, there are some basic design requirements pursuant to the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that design professionals should know. Design professionals also need to be savvy about the nature of claims asserted under the acts, and how to avoid these types of claims.

As an initial matter, the FHA requires disability-related access and usability for apartments and condominiums constructed after March 13, 1991. There are no requirements for renovation of multi-family residential units built before that date.

Design professionals should be aware of the following seven basic design requirements under the FHA:

  • 1.

    At least one accessible building entrance off of an accessible entry route is required.

  • 2.

    Public and common use areas must be accessible and usable.

  • 3.

    Doors must have a minimum of 32 inches wide clearance to allow for wheel chairs to enter.

  • 4.

    There must be an accessible route with a minimum of 36 inches wide leading to a covered unit within the covered


  • 5.

    Environmental control switches must be located no more than 48 inches high and must be otherwise accessible.

  • 6.

    Re-enforced walls and grab bars may be required in bathrooms.

  • 7.

    Clearances in bathrooms and kitchens must be a minimum of 32 inches.

These design requirements apply to all units in buildings containing four or more units if the building has one or more elevators; elevators are required if the building is three stories or higher. Otherwise the requirements apply only to ground floor units on buildings containing more than four units but having no elevators.

The ADA mandates equal access for disabled persons in all public accommodations – restaurants, hotels, retail stores, public buildings, theaters and professional offices. As of January 26, 1992, access design requirements as described under the FHA above apply to such public buildings.

The ADA requires that all new construction of “places of public accommodation,” as well as "commercial facilities" such as office buildings be accessible. Elevators are generally not required in facilities with less than three stories or with fewer than 3,000 square feet per floor, unless the building is a shopping center, mall, a professional office of a health care provider, a terminal, depot, or other public transit station, or an airport passenger terminal.

Alterations that could affect the usability of a facility must be made in an accessible manner to the maximum extent feasible. For example, if during renovations a doorway is being relocated, the new doorway must be wide enough to meet the new construction standard for accessibility. When alterations are made to a primary function area, such as the lobby of a bank or the dining area of a cafeteria, an accessible path of travel to the altered area must also be provided. The

3 John Droutsas is a specialty claims attorney with Travelers’ Architects and Engineers Walnut Creek, CA, claim office 5

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