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VOL. 131 | NO. 141 | Friday, July 15, 2016

UHI Home a Model for Design

By Madeline Faber

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A Raleigh house built nearly 50 years ago will rise as a national model for design techniques that render homes accessible for those experiencing limited mobility as a result of aging.

The house will be renovated to a single-level living space without tricky steps or stairs.


As part of a national design competition, organizers Home Matters and AARP chose New York-based architecture firm IBI Group - Gruzen Samton for its winning design, titled “Inter-Active Living,” to turn a three-bedroom, two-bathroom home in Memphis into a place where those experiencing limited mobility can live without worrying about getting a wheelchair through doorways, manipulating doorknobs or reaching shelves.

The home, which is owned by Memphis nonprofit housing provider United Housing Inc., will see a renovation of up to $75,000 by August, when UHI will select a veteran’s family to move into the home free of cost.

For decades, affordable housing providers focused on just providing affordable housing. Tim Bolding, executive director of UHI, said his organization reflects a growing national emphasis on aging-in-place design, which allows a resident to grow old comfortably in their house as opposed to a nursing home. It also focuses on universal design, which makes houses suitable for those in wheelchairs or experiencing limited mobility.

“I literally asked myself, ‘How could I be in the housing business for 30 years and not know that there’s thousands of people out here that can’t find a home that works for them?’” Bolding said.

The winning design includes an outdoor kitchen so that seniors can host neighbors with ease.


With tens of thousands of Memphians set to become elders in the next 10 years, Bolding said Memphis has to prepare its housing stock to meet demand. According to data from AARP, more than 19 million low-income, senior households struggle with unaffordable and inadequate housing.

Over the past five years, UHI has worked with nonprofit organizations SRVS Memphis and Meritan to build or rehab nearly 25 homes that incorporate aging-in-place design, especially for those with disabilities or medical conditions.

“Every new house we do is universal design now,” he said. “It’s just like doing energy conservation. It’s part of our business.”

Through the design contest, Home Matters plans to cobble together the submitted designs to create a toolkit for homeowners looking to prepare for aging-in-place renovations. The checklist will include items like single-floor living, wide ingresses and egresses, and easy-to-control switches and handles.

Other affordable housing providers are putting a greater emphasis on meeting the needs of an aging population.

Habitat for Humanity of Greater Memphis is working on a 21-home Bearwater Creek subdivision in Uptown, and 45 aging-in-place repairs are part of the project. This fall, the city of Memphis will demolish Foote Homes, Memphis’ last traditional low-income housing complex. In its place will rise the new 712-unit Foote Homes complex, which will include 120 units of senior housing.

“It is important that we develop housing in this city that can accommodate the needs of our diverse population, regardless of income or age,” said Paul Young, director of Housing and Community Development with the city of Memphis. “This development (UHI’s Raleigh home) serves as a model for how we can build quality, affordable housing that will allow for residents to live in their homes through all the stages of their lives.”

Jim Nasso, CEO of nonprofit housing developer and manager Wesley Living, said that all of the company’s 30 Mid-South locations are geared toward care for the elderly. Wesley Living recently unveiled a $6 million upgrade at its Wesley Highland Meadows community in Raleigh. With the upgrade comes energy-efficiency measures that Nasso says will benefit seniors on a fixed income with a 50 percent savings in electricity costs.

At its apartment communities, some of which are supported by federal subsidies, Wesley Living provides an interdisciplinary staff of social work professionals, health care providers and mental health providers.

“People being able to live in their own house, maybe with a little bit of assistance if needed, makes a huge difference in a quality of life,” Nasso said.

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