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Nancy Glenmore Tatum and her husband, Kevin Casey, built a home in Chesterfield designed to be accessible to all users, including grandson Ian Poore. Virginia offers a tax credit for homes that meet certain access criteria. Photo by Matt Eich

It would be hard to find many older adults more fit and health-conscious than Nancy Glenmore Tatum, 62, and her husband, Kevin Casey, 58, owners of Glenmore Yoga & Wellness Center in Richmond.

Yet when they planned their retirement home, they envisioned a time when they might have trouble getting around.

“I grew up thinking about accessibility, although we didn’t call it that,” said Tatum, whose mother had difficulty walking because of a childhood bout with polio, and whose father relied on a wheelchair after a stroke. Later, Tatum cared for a son disabled by a traumatic brain injury.

These experiences made her acutely aware that a well-designed home can make life easier for anyone whose movement is impaired by age or disability. They chose their Chesterfield home for its “universal design” principles emphasizing accessibility.

Their traditional-style home has an upper story that houses Casey’s art studio, a spare bedroom and bathroom. But they could live solely on the main floor. They have lever-type door handles, wider doorways and wheelchair-accessible bathrooms with sturdy walls that could support grab bars.

$5,000 tax credit

AARP Virginia successfully lobbied the legislature two years ago to revise the state’s Livable Home Tax Credit, which offers a tax credit of up to $5,000 to people who purchase or construct a new residence that meets accessibility standards. It offers a similar tax credit to people who retrofit existing residences.

To help people retrofit, AARP Virginia offers Home Fit presentations with advice and home improvement supplier demonstrations.

“All of our research shows that people want to stay in their own homes as long as possible,” said Amber Nightingale, AARP Virginia associate state director for community outreach.

The Herndon Senior Center will present a Home Fit event on April 18. The Great Falls Senior Center will hold a Home Fit event at St. Catherine of Siena Church on May 7. For details, visit the AARP Virginia website.

Home Fit materials and events focus on features such as wider doorways, grab bars in bathrooms, no-slip rugs and stepless entryways. The goal is to make homes safer and more convenient while preventing falls and injuries.

To encourage home builders to construct homes meeting universal-design accessibility standards, AARP joined several organizations to form Virginia Accessible Housing Solutions Inc., a public-private nonprofit corporation whose EasyLiving Home certification provides one way to qualify for the tax credit.

Easy living factors

Lynne Carruth, executive director of Virginia Accessible Housing Solutions, said EasyLiving certification—which requires builder fees and inspections—focuses on three basic factors:

  • Easy access, with a step-free entrance.
  • Easy passage, with specified widths for wider exterior and interior doors.
  • Easy use, with kitchen, entertainment area, bedroom and at least one full, accessible bathroom with maneuvering room on the main floor.

Carruth stressed that the Easy-Living Home concept is not just for older residents.

“We believe these features make a house safer and more convenient for everyone,” Carruth said, adding that accessibility also enhances a home’s market value. “We need to make it as desirable as granite countertops!”

Tatum agrees, and said her new home is just as handy for her young grandchildren as for a visitor in a wheelchair. While she and her husband are planning a long stay, Tatum said the home’s accessibility boosts its resale potential. “I can’t tell you how many people come into our home and say, ‘Oh, my goodness, why didn’t we do this?’ ”

For more on the tax credit, go to Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development website or call 804-371-7124. For more on Easy­Living Homes, go to elhomes.org.
—By Linda H. Lamb