A Builder Dedicated to Accessible Homes and Communities

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Headshot of Curt Kiriu

Curt Kiriu is a home builder and accessible environments advocate.

This post features the work of builder, instructor, and advocate, Curt Kiriu, who is dedicated to accessible environments. An award-winning builder, Curt makes a positive difference in several ways: building homes which work for the age- and ability-continua, teaching the Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS) and Universal Design/Build courses, serving on his local Age Friendly Cities committees, and working to both understand and educate his community.

“The challenge we have in Hawaii, is that we (contractors and public) must maneuver through the bureaucracy of obtaining a building permit; regardless if it is a new home or a modification for accessibility. Yes, an accessible ramp project is considered just as similar as a new home when the plans are being reviewed. The government building permit process (especially in Hawaii) requires numerous reviews that it currently takes an average of 4 to 6 months for a project to be approved. To make enabling environments a reality, I have been working on streamlining accessible project through the permitting system since 2010, by interacting with the government through various departments, events and networking.”

Curt believes that community planning, like home building, is another important pathway to guide our government officials in understanding the importance of planning for an Age Friendly City and all that it encompasses. Curt recognizes that many government decisions have good intentions, but need additional information from the community to understand how their decisions impact the functional and economic costs to the public and private sector businesses. “It takes professionals dedicated to the vision of accessible design to help open their minds, before they implement their ideas.”

As a result, one of Curt’s goals has been to work on positively changing how government views senior living, residential housing and community planning. In 2014, AARP State Director Barbara Stanton called on Curt to serve on Honolulu’s Age Friendly Cities (AFC) Citizens Advisory Committee. For those of you new to the Age Friendly Cities program, it is an initiative started by the World Health Organization (WHO) to encourage and guide cities to address the needs of their aging citizens and tourists. In the U.S., AARP is one of the major organizations leading the efforts under their Livable Communities program.

Honolulu’s plan is called “Kupuna to Keiki.” Kupuna has several Hawaiian meanings, but it basically is “respected elder” (grandparents) and Keiki means “child.” You may view Honolulu’s plan at: http://www.kupunatokeiki.com/.

In serving on the AFC committee, Curt’s main goal was to ensure that home modifications and aging in place were addressed and involved in the future Honolulu community and housing plans. By educating his fellow committee members, he successful in having the NAHB’s CAPS courses written into the final plan: those involved with AFC and others will be able to take the courses to be educated on specifics about Aging in Place and UD.

Ramona Mullahey, Senior Analyst – Field Policy and Management, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, served as a member of the AFC Steering Committee. The Steering Committee members are well-respected individuals comprised of city and community leaders and visionaries. They were tasked with the responsibility to carefully select and recruit leaders in their field to serve on the Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC).

Pull-out shelves of a pantry cabinet.

A pantry with pull-out shelves is both beautiful and enabling.

Pull-out shelves make everything easier to access.

Fortunately, Curt’s efforts are not limited to Hawaii. He participates nationally in NAHB events, serving on the Remodelers Board of Trustees, 2016 vice-chair for the CAPS Board of Governors, SME for CAPS I & II revision and the new CAPS III course, NAHB Executive Board, Education working Group, NAHB State Rep for Hawaii and CAPS and Universal Design/Build instructor. He serves on the Executive Board of Directors and Education chair for his Home Builders Association (HBA) (BIA of Hawaii). He also is working with the Southern Nevada Home Builders Association (SNHBA) to teach the CAPS and UD/B courses to their members. He recently gave a presentation on NAHB education, CAPS and Universal Design/Build and Aging in Place. One of the attendees was a long-range senior planner for a nearby municipality and was very receptive to CAPS and UD. This was the impetus for more meetings in the future to discuss that city’s Age-Friendly plan and how Aging in Place and Universal Design complement age-friendly and long-term community planning. Ideally, the planner and her colleagues will take the CAPS and UD/B courses to further their knowledge, and further develop the resources they offer their community.

In Hawaii, the BIA of Hawaii for several years has been awarded an Educational grant called ETF (Educational Training Fund) from the state.  This allows the BIA to offer the grant to anyone who qualifies to reduce the cost of classes by up to 50%. This has had a positive impact by increasing  class attendance and HBA membership. In his involvement with NAHB, Curt has shared this information with other instructors and HBAs nationwide.  In fact, this terrific and successful program is what I learned from Curt when we first met.  BIA Training Director Barbara Nishikawa has been and continues to be a resource for other HBAs to learn more about the grant.  It is an important model to replicate.

Please visit Houzz to view more of Curt’s home remodeling work.