Wheelchair accessible community to start $4 million construction project on affordable apartments
The Timbers has 100 wheelchair accessible apartments, but many are in need of an upgrade. A new construction project will demolish and replace 18 existing apartments.
Before Joshua Friedel moved into The Timbers 10 years ago, he spent time apartment hunting around Wichita.
He was preparing to move out of a farmhouse he rented from his parents and was seeking an apartment that would accommodate his wheelchair.
It proved difficult.
“We checked a lot of places,” Friedel said. “When we got there … we were like, ‘They’re calling this handicap accessible?’ I mean, the step into the house was about … three feet tall.”
Luckily, he found an apartment at The Timbers – and promptly decked out the place with an Elvis poster, comic books and video games. Built in 1979, the Timbers community is one of the few fully wheelchair accessible apartment developments in Wichita.
The 100 units near 21st and Oliver are owned by the Cerebral Palsy Research Foundation. The U.S. Housing and Urban Development provides residents with federal rental assistance to keep the apartments affordable.
But 40 years after the apartments were built, many of the units are in need of an upgrade, said Kacee Shuler, director of community relations at the Cerebral Palsy Research Foundation.
That’s why the city, state and private sources are investing $4.2 million in a project to demolish and rebuild 18 one-bedroom apartment units on the Timbers’ campus. Construction on the new units is slated to start this spring.
“There are some updates that need to happen,” Shuler said. “There are lifestyle changes that have occurred.
“Seating systems (in wheelchairs) are bigger and more intricate than they were in 1979. We also have things available – amenities – that were not available back when we built the property.”
On Tuesday, Wichita committed $190,000 in federal housing funds it received to the project. Investing in affordable and wheelchair accessible housing is vital, said Sally Stang, Wichita’s housing and community services director. That’s because Wichita doesn’t have enough of it.
“There’s a tremendous need for additional, accessible units in our community, especially quality accessible units,” Stang said. She added that new housing construction has to make 5% of their units accessible, but most older housing developments don’t meet that criteria.
Shuler confirmed that demand for housing at the Timbers is high. The organization typically has a waitlist.
The new units, at 790 square feet, are set to be about 200 feet larger than the former ones. They will also meet current accessibility standards, which the older ones do not.
The Timbers has already demolished and reconstructed 14 of its 100 apartments and eventually plans to rebuild all of them. The new apartments have a number of features for residents who use wheelchairs, from wider doorways, automatic doors, bigger roll-in showers and even appliances that open sideways and are placed at accessible heights.
“A lot of things that we have built into the new apartments are little things,” Shuler said. “We have things like a top and bottom (door peephole) so you can see outside. … Sometimes it’s the little things.”
Friedel moved into one of the 14 new apartments at The Timbers about a year ago – his former unit was one of the first ones to be torn down.
“I got lucky,” he said.
Friedel said the space has a lot of perks – like the oven door that opens sideways, so he can grab his food without burning his arm. The dishwasher is also not as low, so it’s easier to load for someone using a wheelchair.
His favorite part, though?
“The ice dispenser. The old place … you had to reach all the way up with your arm and just hope you could get some ice cubes to put in your cup. That’ll make a cold hand really quick,” Friedel said. “But with this new upgrade, go up there, get the cup of ice, pour that Coca-Cola in there. Have yourself a nice cold drink.”