Homes have lives too!

Newhouse stepsGeoff Penrose of Lifemark in New Zealand has appealed for builders and home designers to recognise that a house can last for 50 or 100 years, and consequently needs to be designed for more than the first family that moves in. 

The mass-market house-building industry in both Australia and New Zealand still focuses on the first purchaser because when the house is sold to new occupants, there is no profit for them. As a profit-making exercise it makes sense – appeal to the potential first buyer only. But this is where market forces fall down in meeting one of the basic needs of humans – safe shelter.

The concept that homes have lifespans as well as people was taken up in 2008 in research by economists Smith, Rayer and Smith. They calculated there is a 60 percent probability that a single-family unit built today will accommodate at least one resident with a disability during its expected lifetime. When visitors with a disability are included, the probability rises to 91 percent. This analysis by family and by dwelling avoids a static view of peoples’ lives which encourages proportion arguments, that is, the number of dwellings suited to people with special requirements should equal the number of people with those requirements. They did a subsequent study taking the research to a sub-regional level and came up with the same results.

But even if you take a static view, we have nowhere the needed 20% accessible housing being built today. Geoff Penrose claims just 2% of new stock this year were likely to be designed for the lifespan, and the figures are similar in Australia.

Helen James from Lifemark and Margaret Ward from Griffith University will both be making presentations at the UD Conference in Sydney on this topic.