Thursday, December 29, 2016

Ontario Building Code (5) to (8) as of January 1, 2015

I've had a problem with our Ontario Building Code for quite some time.

My first concern is with section which exempts houses from barrier-free design requirements. Continuing to build new housing with architectural barriers violates our Ontario Human Rights Code (Part 1, sub 2), our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (section 15), and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Article 9). Canada adopted the UN New Urban Agenda 2030 on October 20th so it looks like we're well on our way to breaching that too (Sustainable Development Goals, which include Universal Design). I guess we might as well be consistent in our discriminatory policies, as it relates to the millions of Canadians with disabilities. Our Charter has forbidden disability discrimination since 1985 (delayed by three years, as part of our Constitution Act 1982) but I guess this doesn't apply to housing, where we all spend the greatest portion of any 24 hour period, and where billions in health care costs are spent yearly on injuries in the home (according to the Public Health Agency of Canada). But yes, let's keep up with status quo... discrimination and preventable injuries (and tragically, thousands of preventable deaths as well).

My second concern is with the loopholes that have allowed major developers to avoid the changes to section (5) to (8) that occured on January 1, 2015. For the sake of a relevant example, let's use Ottawa's tallest Mixed Use building, the Claridge Icon (10 levels of underground parking + 47 storeys). Here's a photo of their Sales Office and site, earlier today, on Preston Street in Ottawa.

Changes to the OBC on January 1, 2015 required 15% of units to have basic accessibility features, as an excerpt from our Ontario Building Code shows here:

So here's the problem, it's called Phased Building Permits. On January 28, 2015, Permit #1500335 was issued for excavation only (for 10 levels of underground parking and 46 storeys). Then on August 31, 2016, Permit #1606066 was issued to "Construct a 47 storey mixed use (retail, office, residential) building with 10 levels of underground parking". By submitting a very limited permit application in 2014, for excavation only, this entire project was grandfathered under the older rules of OBC (5). So here we are approaching two years since the code change and they haven't built one storey above ground yet (as my photo shows). 15% of units in this project would have added a number of VisitAble units to Ottawa's limited inventory of private dwellings with these basic accessibility features. But instead, we've continued the pattern of architectural barriers in Group C buildings, where these features are the most cost effective (and most cost effective in new construction as well, up to 20 times more economical than renovating for accessibility). And it's the only dwelling type not exempt in Is it any wonder that our inventory is so low? Is it any wonder that I've brought my concerns to the Canadian Commission on Building and Fire Codes, via Code Change Request 964? Am I justifiably annoyed as an advocate/activist interested in Universal Design for new housing?

You be the judge.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Transformative change in housing looks imminent

Recent events seem to be pointing to some transformative change in housing. The first significant event was Canada's adoption of the New Urban Agenda 2030 on October 20th in Quito, Ecuador. It was the most successful United Nations conference in their history, with 35,000 participants, which included a large Canadian delegation.
Of particular interest in the New Urban Agenda is their focus on inclusion and sustainable development goals. They go as far as to state on page 5 "To fully harness the potential of sustainable urban development, we make the following transformative commitments through an urban paradigm shift grounded in the integrated and indivisible dimensions of sustainable development: social, economic, and environmental." Sustainable development goals not only have a positive impact on our environment (eg. Paris Agreement), they also positively impact our financial and social sustainability. In the built environment, Universal Design of new projects means that accessibility is done right from the planning stage of a new building/dwelling, which is far more economical than renovating for accessibility later on (up to 20 times more economical). Universal Design in all new buildings and dwellings also means avoiding renovations or avoiding being forced to move (if your abilities change); renovations and moving both have carbon-intensive impacts. Social sustainability is achieved when ALL can be included in live, work and play daily activities, which have a very positive impact on each individual (when they don't need to struggle with barriers, such as architectural barriers in our buildings, dwellings and public spaces). Equal opportunities to participate have an extremely positive impact on an individual's quality of life, in order to reach their full potential.

A second event of significance has been Canada's announcement that we're moving forward with the accession of the Optional Protocol of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
As I've previously commented, Article 9 of the CRPD speaks of Accessibility, which includes Housing. I have been advocating for accessibility of housing for a number of years, which includes a Code Change Request with the Canadian Commission on Building and Fire Codes (CCR 964 for VisitAbility of new dwellings, which is still ongoing). Moving forward with the Optional Protocol of the CRPD means that a formal complaint can eventually be submitted to the CRPD Committee if Canada's discriminatory building codes are allowed to continue (section exempts homes from barrier-free design requirements, which actively discriminates against millions of Canadians with mobility disabilities, thereby excluding them from the majority of housing stock due to these preventable architectural barriers). VisitAbility is a simple and cost-effective approach of removing architectural barriers in our built environment and allows for inclusion of all. 

A third recent event has been the publication of the Ontario Human Rights Commission Strategic Plan for 2017-2022. Chief Commissioner Renu Mandhane has made it very clear in this document that systemic discrimination will be confronted, including in the judicial system (on page 15).
Given that our Ontario Building Code, section, also exempts homes from barrier-free design requirements. I suspect that this will become an issue for its violation of the Ontario Human Rights Code, which has primacy over the Ontario Building Code.

As you can see from the above examples, I believe that transformative change in how we design and build our new dwellings will hopefully become a more inclusive and sustainable system, one that responds to the changing demographics and abilities of Canadians. I look forward to future announcements from our federal and provincial governments.