Saturday, 1 July 2017
Progress @ Elm as we work towards Phase II. Proper access from the street...
As great as the inside looks, it needs to be noted this project is not yet finished because access to and from the outside is just as important as how accessible the inside is.
A lot of people think as long as there is a sidewalk to get from point A (the street) to B (the building) that should be good enough. I am stating, it is not. We have a sidewalk that, while it is usable, is unsafe and unnavigable for a person in a wheelchair. My daughter can use it when she is able to walk with her walker, but not without me spotting her from behind to make sure she does not lose her balance and fall in the ditch and she can not cross it by herself in her wheelchair at all without someone pushing her. Neither of these things do anything for a person's independence.
To make matters worse, since the property does not have a driveway, this past spring, when she was needing to use a big bulky wheelchair post surgery, I would have to park in the middle of Elm Street with my hazard lights blinking, unload the wheelchair, get Mia out of the truck, push her to safety on the sidewalk and then park amidst patient --and sometimes aggravated--gawking from the people lined up behind me who could not pass. On the days when we arrived at the property to find our sidewalk obstructed by cars parked by people oblivious to the fact that sidewalks should never be blocked, we could not get in the building at all. These time consuming, disruptive actions are evidence enough we need a driveway and walkway.
But that is not all, exterior access has to be comprehensive and about more than just getting people from the driveway or sidewalk to the inside of a space. It has to be about making all the components of the property accessible because a person with limited mobility needs to be able to fully enjoy the benefits of the entire property: gardens, porches, playing in the yard, outdoor cooking components, etc. Spending time outside is good for a person's health, well being and social development and people with limited mobility have the same rights to enjoyment and participation in all aspects of outdoor spaces as everyone else on the planet.
Knowing what kind of expenses were going to be accompanying the access improvements, last summer, having worked so hard on the inside to get it where it needs to be to communicate effectively what I am trying to accomplish with the project, I invited someone from the MO Historic Preservation Office to the building to see if it would qualify for preservation credits. I was confident we would qualify for something because it is a contributing resource to the Historic District of Kimmswick. In the end I was told the inside was very well done and would have been a great project for the program but since the work had already been performed, it was too late to submit it for consideration. The exterior access components would not qualify because historic credits do not cover sidewalks and things of that nature. These answers did not seem right to me but I noted them as room for improvement in the state program and asked one more favor while I had the attention of the agent who drove from Jefferson City.
I took her to see another historic commercial building in Kimmswick that has a beautiful and spacious apartment on the second and third floors. It was my listing at the time and I was hoping to find a buyer who would let me help them rehab it universally--just like Elm. I had it all figured out and explained my wish to put an elevator in the building because there was space for one and asked if that would be covered under the historic tax credit program. The answer was another no because it was not part of the existing structure. This put me in a precarious position as a Realtor® because the inaccessibility of the building meant future proprietors were also going to be in precarious positions when forced into discriminating against future patrons, tenants and employees with mobility limitations--unless they were willing to undertake the substantial financial burden of installing a crucial accessibility component like an elevator. That building was eventually sold so my hopes to help put an elevator in it were dashed...for the time being anyway.
As disappointing as the afternoon was, it was a learning experience and proved to me there is an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of many people with a few minor changes. It does not matter how accessible the rooms inside of a space are, if someone can't get in or out of a building safely and with dignity, they remain prisoners of their environment, cut off from social and cultural opportunities. This is true whether the space is residential or commercial but in the case of commercial buildings in historic business districts, safe, accessible access is crucial to the function of the business inside because customers and staff are what keep a business moving forward and contributing to the economic development of an area. The Historic Tax Credit program is overseen by the MO Department of Economic Development and that department is tied in with the Department of Labor Relations. The correcting of these oversights should be a no brainer because the goal with my efforts is to keep people moving, active and contributing to society. If exterior access improvements, elevators and lifts can be added as included elements of a qualifying historic rehab--regardless of whether or not they are already a part of the structure, this will help owners with the cost of making such improvements because the cost to do these safety improvements can be prohibitive.
All this being said, I am working to change a couple rules pertaining to historic rehabs because the people who run the historic credits program need to remember that we are living history every day, as each moment passes. We need to make history with changing things that leave people vulnerable and at a risk. Improvements added to historic structures that allow full enjoyment to space formerly inaccessible don't just add another layer of history, they add to the quality of life for people by making history accessible.
See the dirty work going on in the garden here: