San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Wheelchair-Accessible Housing Rolls in, Slowly

If you build it, they will come. It worked in a baseball movie, so why not with wheelchair-accessible housing?

The philosophy goes like this: As the baby boomer generation ages, more and more elderly people or seniors with disabilities will be looking to take advantage of Costa Rica’s balmy tropical climate and pura vida way of life. Build them wheelchair-accessible housing, and they’ll buy it.

Good in theory, but it’s been a slow road thus far, developers and real estate agents say.

The general consensus, from the northwestern province of Guanacaste to the booming Central Valley, is that the market hasn’t materialized yet – but it won’t be long.

Jon Armstrong, developer of Las Pampas, a housing development in Santa Ana, southwest of San José, is staying ahead of the curve; he says he has designed his homes with versatility for any potential resident in mind.

He calls it “one-floor living,” and emphasizes that his homes can accommodate wheelchair users but are also attractive to anyone who’d prefer not to tromp up and down stairs all day.

This is retirement, after all.

In the United States, the American Association of Retired People (AARP) calls it “universal design.” The difference between ordinary handicapped-accessible and universal design homes is simple, according to the association’s Web site ( “Universal design is getting popular for two reasons. First, it looks nice. Second, more people want universal housing. We all want more comfort in our homes.”

Armstrong has chosen this route. Instead of sterile-looking, whitewashed rooms, his are spacious and airy, with doorways wide enough to allow easy access and movement.

It’s subtle, he says, but for someone in a wheelchair, it makes all the difference.

And if you want to upgrade to fully wheelchair-accessible – including wheelchair ramps, handicapped-equipped toilets and showers, the changes are easy, and the added fee is minimal.

“If they come and pick out a model that’s already built, it might add $2,000 or $3,000 to the price,” Armstrong said. And for a house that’s yet to be built, the cost would likely be less than $1,000.

“I think there’s a huge market out there for this kind of flexibility, and for wheelchair access,” he added. “We are finding that a lot of people are very interested in the concept.”

Condominios Cortijo Los Laureles, a nine-story luxury apartment development in the western San José suburb of Escazú, will also provide wheelchair accessibility, according to project engineer Jonathon Cordero.

“We will provide access to everything, including the communal facilities, like the pool area. There will be ramps and elevators.

There are no obstacles to handicapped accessibility here,” Cordero said, adding that the apartments can be customized for residents requiring handicapped accessibility.

Roll West, My Friend

Farther west, in the booming beach towns of Guanacaste, developers have been slower to respond to the call of retirees with physical disabilities.

For starters, many believe the market has yet to develop.

“There’s no niche here for wheelchair accessible housing. We get the occasional request, but overall the demand is very low,” explained Diego Quesada of Coldwell Banker in Tamarindo, on the northern Pacific coast.

Steven Islas of Ocean Pacific Realty in Tamarindo represents one of the few condo developments that could eventually offer wheelchair-accessible housing in the region.

But he agrees that Costa Rica’s decrepit, pothole-ridden roads and nonexistent sidewalks do little to inspire confidence among those with physical disabilities.

“Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone in a wheelchair in Tamarindo,” Islas said.

But as development continues in the region, that could change, he said. The under-development La Perla Condominiums will consist of three residential towers, and the idea is to make the condos flexible enough for residents with physical disabilities, or those who simply are looking for easier, more convenient access – typical among retirees who settle in Costa Rica.

“We’ve designed it with accessibility in mind; we’ve got an elevator, lighted walkways, an accessible parking lot,” he said. “For those in wheelchairs, we could certainly customize a condo afterwards.”

The Law

Costa Rica’s Law of Equal Opportunity for People with Disabilities, passed in 1998, sets forth guidelines for “access to physical spaces.”

The law specifically applies to any and all government-related buildings that provide services to the public or that are funded with public money, but many of the guidelines are applicable to residences as well, according to the Federated Association of Engineers and Architects (CFIA).

To review the guidelines, see the CFIA’s Web site at


Comments are closed.