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NO. 47. AN ACT RELATING TO A STUDY OF ACCESSIBILITY STANDARDS FOR RESIDENTIAL HOUSING.

(S.174)

It is hereby enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Vermont:

Sec. 1. LEGISLATIVE FINDINGS

The general assembly finds that:

(1) People over 65 are the fastest growing sector of the American population, with life expectancies continuing to increase. Whether due to injury or age, there is a great likelihood for each of us, at some time in our life, to suffer a temporary or permanent condition that limits mobility or the ability to perform daily tasks of living.

(2) The increased cost of constructing a residence with doorways wide enough to permit wheelchair access, electrical outlets reachable by a person who uses a wheelchair, and bathroom walls reinforced to permit grab bars is minimal, while the costs and disruption associated with retrofitting an existing home to be minimally accessible are substantial.

(3) A residence that provides minimal accessibility offers the possibility of occupancy or visitation by a disabled person. An occupant of a home with wide doorways and reachable outlets who becomes disabled, whether temporarily or permanently, may be able to remain at home and avoid or delay the great expense and emotional trauma of institutionalization.

(4) The cities of Atlanta, Georgia and Austin, Texas have enacted visitability codes, and in 1998, the United Kingdom enacted legislation that requires all new homes to be constructed in accordance with minimum disability access standards.

Sec. 2. ACCESSIBILITY STANDARDS; RESIDENTIAL BUILDING

CODE; STUDY; DEPARTMENT OF LABOR AND INDUSTRY

(a) The department of labor and industry shall study the appropriateness of enacting minimal accessibility standards for new construction of one, two or three family dwellings of three stories or less that are built for sale on the open market and not constructed for immediate occupancy by a specific individual. The department shall also review the effectiveness of the rules relating to elevators in four-unit townhouses.

(b) The department shall consult with and provide progress reports to the joint housing committee of the general assembly. The department shall consult representatives from the department of aging and disabilities' state assistive technology project, the council of Vermont elders, the Vermont center for independent living and the Vermont homebuilders' association and others.

(c) On or before November 15, 1999, the department shall issue a written report outlining the considerations, proposals and consultations that formed the basis for the study and the resulting findings and recommendations. The report shall be issued to the joint housing committee, the house committees on health and welfare and general, housing and military affairs and the senate committees on health and welfare and general affairs and housing.

Sec. 3. FINDINGS

Of the 33,000 lower income rental households in Vermont, more than 27 percent reside in substandard units. At best, there is only a patchwork system of state and local authorities that monitors and enforces compliance with housing codes. This system includes the department of labor and industry, the department of health, social workers in the agency of human services and local health officers. Implementation of an efficient system to monitor and enforce compliance with health and safety housing codes and development of additional mechanisms to finance the maintenance and rehabilitation of existing rental housing stock will increase the availability of safe rental housing and, in turn, improve the quality of life for lower and moderate income Vermonters.

Sec. 4. RENTAL HOUSING HEALTH AND SAFETY STANDARDS;

DATA COLLECTION; ANALYSIS; PROPOSALS; REPORT

The department of housing and community affairs, in cooperation and consultation with the department of labor and industry and the department of health, shall conduct a study to provide a working document to be used by the joint housing committee created in 1997, and other committees of the general assembly with jurisdiction over housing issues, to knowledgeably and thoughtfully carry out their mandate in regard to low income housing in Vermont. To this end, the department shall:

(1) Collect data on the rental housing stock in Vermont, with particular focus on the condition of rental housing available to lower income Vermonters. The data collected shall include existing information available in towns with full-time housing inspection staff and results of sample inspections of rental housing performed by the department of labor and industry in ten diverse Vermont communities.

(2) Develop creative and innovative proposals for improving the quality of rental housing by:

(A) Analyzing for use in Vermont successful housing programs in other states, particularly New England.

(B) Proposing models for small-scale rental rehabilitation and maintenance programs.

(C) Analyzing the desirability and feasibility of state or local apartment registry and an inspection system with statewide coordination and the likely impact of both on the quality and quantity of rental housing stock.

(D) Identifying low interest funding sources to finance rental housing rehabilitation.

(E) Developing proposals for technical assistance networks and programs designed to assist and support landlord efforts to repair and rehabilitate substandard rental housing that will retain its commercial viability.

(F) Proposing enforcement options such as requiring code compliance upon resale of a rental housing property.

(G) Determining whether any of the proposals under this subdivision will have the effect of decreasing rental housing inventory in the state.

(3) Present a written report to the Joint Housing Committee, the House and Senate Committees on Health and Welfare, the House Committee on General, Housing and Military Affairs and the Senate Committee on General Affairs and Housing on or before December 31, 1999. The report shall include the data used, analyses, conclusions and recommendations required under subdivision (2) of this section.

Sec. 5. APPROPRIATION

In fiscal year 2000, there is transferred to the department of housing and community affairs from federal funds appropriated to the department of aging and disabilities, the division of vocational rehabilitation, the amount of $25,000.00 to pay for consultants, contractors and other support services in order to effect the purposes of Sec. 4 of this act.

Sec. 6. EFFECTIVE DATE

This act shall take effect on passage.

Approved: May 26, 1999