The Maine Affordable Housing Coalition (MAHC) and its 123 member organizations across the state are celebrating the publication of a long-awaited Notice by the federal Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) that finally allows for the exclusive application of modern accessibility codes in the creation and renovation of affordable housing.

Prior to the posting of the Notice last Friday, developers, architects and contractors using HUD funds were obligated to adhere to an antiquated 1980s-era accessibility code known as the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards (UFAS). UFAS increased costs and confusion in the construction of affordable housing in Maine and across the country, without improving accessibility for residents, because UFAS was at odds with current codes and best practices in the construction and architectural sectors.

In 2013, following the needless expenditure of tens of thousands of dollars on UFAS-related renovations that failed to add value for residents, MAHC and the Associated General Contractors of Maine appealed to Senator Susan Collins for assistance in moving HUD away from these outdated accessibility standards and to the exclusive application of modern codes. Her office subsequently worked with HUD officials to encourage a common-sense solution to the UFAS problem.

“The Maine Affordable Housing Coalition is grateful to Senator Collins for her work in helping to affect this policy change at HUD, which will ensure that federal funds are not needlessly spent on design and construction activity that adds no value for residents of HUD-financed properties in Maine,” said Greg Payne, director of MAHC.

“Maine contractors believe this common sense approach will reduce costs and fix accessibility issues that the outdated UFAS code created. Senator Collins’ help in bringing about this action will directly impact taxpayers’ bottom-line nationwide, and in return provide for good design and construction decisions that will ultimately benefit the end-user. Simply put, this was long overdue and worthy of celebrating,” said Matthew Marks, CEO of Associated General Contractors of Maine.

The Notice applies to all affordable housing projects undertaken in the future, leaving unclear how HUD will treat properties already built. A Voluntary Compliance Agreement signed by HUD and MaineHousing in 2011 required owners of 25 affordable housing properties throughout the state to use limited project funds to undertake a series of renovations to bring about compliance with the outdated UFAS code, but some owners have resisted on the grounds that the projects already comply with more modern accessibility codes and would represent a waste of taxpayer dollars.

Renovations required under the Voluntary Compliance Agreement include adjusting doors, toilets and toilet paper holders by an inch or less, and requiring upper kitchen cabinets to be installed so low that coffee makers no longer fit on counters. Modern accessibility codes, however, provide alternative design options that allow for full accessibility without compromising usability.