Since it opened in October, some 600 people have visited the Idea House in East Baltimore. From the outside, the 14-foot-wide rowhouse looks different from its neighbors in Canton mostly because of the absence of white marble steps.
But that is only the beginning. A peek inside reveals a two-story home reconstructed specifically for the needs of a senior citizen with mobility problems. A chair lift makes negotiating the stairway easier; grab bars in the bathroom and re-arranged furniture and kitchen appliances increase safety and comfort.
Many senior citizens "are prisoners of their first floors," contends Jo Fisher, who is in charge of the Idea House. Yet even relatively cheap and simple modifications could make their homes more workable, their lives happier.
"There is an overwhelming recognition that independent living is what seniors want," says Robert P. Giloth, one of the originators of the South East Senior Housing Initiative which is sponsored by a coalition of secular and religious organizations in the area. In Highlandtown alone, more than 40 percent of homes have an owner 62 years or older.
The aim of the senior housing initiative is to aid East Baltimore residents over 60 and living in an area bounded by the Fallsway, Biddle Street, the city line and the waterfront with modifications that would make their homes easier to live in. Few people may want -- or could afford -- a total reconstruction of their homes, but even simple modifications might make their lives safer and more satisfying. The senior housing initiative is ready to help with planning, locating contractors and ironing out financial details.
The Idea House was reconstructed by Brian Latronico, a local contractor who owns it and is lending it to the senior housing initiative for a year. Senior citizens, regardless of whether they live within the pilot area, ought to take a look at it and its many common-sense solutions. The house, at 3003 Fait Avenue, is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Thursdays or through appointment by calling 327-6193.