More information in Portuguese about this award-winning program.
Popular housing programs do not usually cater for the needs of disabled citizens. All units are built to the same specifications and the most that happens is that a ground floor unit might be allocated to a wheelchair user. Municipal laws usually oblige public spaces to provide access for disabled persons, but tend to omit housing spaces among those regulated. In Porto Alegre, this reality began to change in 2003 with the delivery of the first special units within a housing estate built by the municipal government.
Studies and debates on the issue of accessibility in government housing projects led to the implementation of special units in a municipal initiative which incorporates policies for re-settlement, social inclusion and income generation in one of Porto Alegre's northern areas. The first three units are ready and have been occupied by families with wheelchair users.
The housing units use simple and effective solutions for providing disabled persons with mobility and autonomy. Dimensions are compatible with wheelchair spin and unit access is by means of a ramp with handrail. Faucets have levers for use by those with limited motor capacity in their hands and the toilet is set on a concrete base which makes it higher and more comfortable for those without lower member mobility. All doors are wide enough for wheelchair access and door handles and light switches are set at an adequate height for use by a seated person. On doors and next to all equipment, there are support bars to help reach any needed object. The showers, with in-built metal seats and low faucet handles, allow full bathing autonomy. The special units are located close to main roads, where there are bus lines adapted to special needs users.
The special units cost on average 20% more than a regular unit, due to a larger floor plan and the use of special equipment. Initial difficulties included approval of a solution which altered the balance of cost of the units and demanded special construction items within a building plan which worked with large-scale purchasing economy. Once the project was deemed viable, the team had to carry out a study of demand, since the information forms of the families who had applied to the municipal housing program contained no information on the physical mobility limitations of family members.
This first housing estate with special units will contain eight units for families with disabled members. This, of course, represents only a part of the disabled citizens living in the neighborhood. However, the program predicts a total investment of R$170 million for urban restructuring in the area, including 3,061 new homes. Some of these, like the three already completed, will be destined to disabled citizens, allowing them to move freely around their own homes and the neighborhoods in which they live. With the technical solution in hands, now the next step which needs to be taken is to create a law obliging popular housing programs to include special units for citizens with physical disabilities, giving legal weight to this initiative from Porto Alegre.