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Nov. 27, 2013

MHN Interview: Victoria Lanteigne of the Equal Rights Center

8.11.11 Victoria LanteigneBy Jessica Fiur, Senior Editor

Washington, D.C.—The Equal Rights Center (ERC), a national non-profit civil rights organization, recently announced that American Standard would be founding associate member of the ERC’s Multifamily Housing Resource Program (MHRP). MHN speaks with Victoria Lanteigne, corporate partnership and training program manager, ERC, about this new partnership.

MHN: Describe the ERC.

Lanteigne: The Equal Rights Center (ERC) is a more-than-30-year-old civil rights organization that employs a multifaceted approach to promoting equal opportunity in housing, employment and access to public accommodations and government services. With nearly 7,000 individual members across the nation, the ERC uses education, research, testing, advocacy and collaboration, coupled with a commitment to innovation to create a lasting impact. The ERC combines both time-tested and groundbreaking approaches to advancing civil rights at both the individual and systemic levels.

Through its Corporate Partnerships and Training (CPT) Program, the ERC collaborates with government entities, allied organizations, business and industry leaders, and others to address both established and emerging civil rights issues. One of the ERC’s most innovative and successful collaboration initiatives is its Multifamily Housing Resource Program (MHRP), a trailblazing membership program for housing industry leaders.

MHN: Describe the MHRP.

Lanteigne: The MHRP is a collaborative membership program dedicated to assisting multifamily housing developers to comply with federal, state and local accessibility requirements, and to increasing the number of accessible apartments and condominiums in the United States.

MHRP members are industry leaders in the areas of multifamily housing development, construction, and property management, as well as architectural firms with accessible and sustainable design expertise, and accessibility-related product and service vendors, and contractors. The MHRP offers a variety of resources to assist its members in implementing “best practices” to enhance compliance with the accessibility requirements of the Fair Housing Act (FHA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and state and local laws as they relate to accessible housing.

Since its founding in 2008, the MHRP has grown to include 14 developers representing more than 600,000 apartments and condominiums across the country, two architectural design and accessibility firms, and now, led by American Standard, two associate members. These industry leaders serve as a model for the housing industry, and give many of the nation’s 57 million individuals with disabilities the opportunity to live where they choose.

MHN: Why was American Standard a good fit as founding associate member?

Lanteigne: American Standard Brands, the MHRP’s 18th member, is a leading manufacturer of high-quality building and plumbing products―faucets, toilets, sinks, whirlpool tubs, furnishings, plus safe and accessible lines―for bathrooms and kitchens in residential, commercial, healthcare, education and other institutional environments. The company has engineered high-performing, “quietly accessible” products that allow for greater independence, safety and dignity for persons with disabilities and limited mobility. These products are a natural fit for developers, like our MHRP members, who make accessibility a high priority.

MHN: What are some of the goals of the MHRP?

Lanteigne: The MHRP and its members graphically demonstrate that proactive collaboration between housing organizations and housing industry leaders is a successful model that should be expanded. In more specific terms, the MHRP’s work focuses on:

  • Increasing the number of residential housing units and properties in the United States that are accessible to persons with disabilities;
  • Enhancing housing industry collaboration in the compliance with accessibility laws; and
  • Demonstrating that concepts of equal housing opportunity are not only the law, but sound business practices.

By incorporating accessible features into the development, design and construction phases of multifamily housing projects, companies demonstrate their commitment to equal opportunity in housing. Underlying this commitment is an understanding that:

  • Offering accessible housing expands the customer base to include the growing market of renters and buyers with disabilities. By 2050, one in every three households in America will include a person with a disability.
  • Accessible design is attractive design. Accessibility requirements tend to create more open kitchens, bathrooms and unit designs that appeal to tenants with and without disabilities alike.
  • Providing accessible and adaptable units will allow tenants to “age in place,” creating naturally more stable project revenues even as the general population grows older.
  • “Accessibility consciousness” yields real dividends to developers and their investors. The costs of addressing accessibility on a “retrofit” basis far exceed the incremental costs of ensuring compliant design and construction at the earliest stages of every multifamily project.

MHN: What are some challenges the MHRP might face?

Lanteigne: Compliance with accessibility regulations continues to be a challenging endeavor. There are multiple federal laws that may apply to certain buildings, not to mention potential overlapping state and local laws. The MHRP will continue to stay ahead of the curve when providing guidance on accessibility initiatives by offering the following services:

  • Joining appropriate task forces to directly advise on accessibility issues;
  • Expanding the program to work with interior designers, civil engineers, and landscapers to ensure accessibility at all levels of multifamily housing construction; and
  • Continuing to expand educational opportunities for its members’ and their employees by creating more online tools in diverse languages.
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