101st Assembly District
Kevin Cahill

Room 557 LOB, Albany, NY 12248 • (518) 455-4436
Governor Clinton Building, One Albany Ave., Suite G-4
Kingston, NY 12401 • (845) 338-9610

For Immediate Release
Date: November 9, 2001
Contact: Kathy Keyser
(845) 338-9610

Cahill Blasts State Building Code Council's Decision to Drastically Reduce Disabled Housing

Assembly Disability Task Force chair says construction industry lobby more important to department of state than New York's most vulnerable population

Assemblymember Kevin A. Cahill (D-Kingston) today denounced yesterday's decision by the New York Department of State's Uniform Fire Prevention and Building Code Council to severely limit accessible housing for people with disabilities by adopting the International Building Code (IBC). The motion decreased accessibility requirements from 100-percent to ten-percent during the November 8 meeting at Albany's Empire State Plaza after months of rescheduled hearings. Citing the 90-percent reduction from the existing requirement, Cahill called the Code Council's claims of "sensitivity" in exceeding the Federal standards for accessibility, "a blatant attempt to whitewash this egregious step backward."

New York State currently requires all newly constructed apartments in buildings with elevators and all ground floor units to have accessible routes and spaces, particularly at doorways and in bathrooms. With the imminent adoption of the International Building Code (IBC), the Building Code Council initially proposed to reduce the construction of accessible apartments by a staggering 98-percent, resulting in a dramatic decrease in the number of apartments constructed to accommodate wheelchair users and other people with disabilities. Even after months of intense pressure from the disability community, the Building Code Council still voted to reduce the number of new accessible apartments by 90-percent.

"Such an unspeakable reduction rate in accessible housing, whether it be 90 or 98-percent, is deplorable and an insult to the people of New York State and in particular, the disability community," Cahill said. "Federal standards are simply guidelines for states, provided to prevent a worst-case scenario, not as an excuse for reversing 17 years of quality accessibility. This move was to placate certain groups seeking to cut costs at the expense of our enlightened standards. This decision throws the disabilities civil rights movement back into the Dark Ages and will not be tolerated."

"The Code Council's decision to decrease the number of accessible units required by only 90-percent is nothing more than a token appeasement gesture to New Yorkers with disabilities," said Jeremy Chwat, Associate Director of Legislation for the Eastern Paralyzed Veteran's Association, an outspoken critic of the changes. "It will have no tangible impact on the number of accessible units to be constructed in New York State."

Cahill, who chairs the Assembly Task Force on People with Disabilities and is a longtime opponent of adopting the weakened standard as part of the IBC, called the act a "a slap in the face" and warned that such a move sets a dangerous precedent towards sending many back to institutional living. The Assemblyman also pointed out that accessible space and adequate accommodations directly saved lives during the tragic events of September 11, 2001.

"Never before in the history of this state have we all been so sensitized to the need to make all spaces uniformly accessible. How tragically ironic that the council hand-picked by Governor Pataki and the Senate would choose this moment to make that less so," Cahill said.

The Task Force Chair went on to explain that Assistant Secretary of State Dorothy Harris, when the notion of adopting the IBC was first presented, told meeting attendees that there was a deadline to be met and therefore no time to consider revisions to the initiative.

"Yet, with the Assembly's passage of my legislation (A.8931/S.5483) in June to preserve existing accessibility in statute, we offered a viable, timely alternative to simply bulldozing forward with no concern for those with disabilities seeking to live healthy, productive lives, " Cahill said. "To this day, I have yet to receive a reasonable response from the Department of State, or any indication that the Senate will advance this measure in that house."

People with disabilities, often living on fixed incomes, have traditionally found it difficult to find accessible, affordable places to live. Disability advocates scored a legal victory recently, however, with the US Supreme Court Olmstead vs. L.C. ruling which reaffirmed that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires states to serve people with disabilities in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs.

"If the Code Council thinks that New York's disability advocates are going to concede and accept this injustice, they are sorely mistaken," Cahill concluded. "This fight does not end with their so-called findings. New York State has the best code for accessibility in the United States of America. We will consider all legal avenues available, possibly including injunctive relief, to right this wrong. Certainly, with another legislative session right around the corner, one of my top priorities will be to shepherd A.8931 into law."