Building Ministers to discuss accessible housing next meeting

There is some potentially good news on the topic of housing. After the last Building Ministers’ Forum in December, they circulated a communiqué that briefly outlined their discussions. Halfway through the short document was this statement: “Ministers discussed important issues relating to accessibility, including universal and accessible housing, and agreed to have further discussions on the costs and benefits of applying a minimum accessibility standard for private dwellings in Australia at the next BMF meeting.”

Front cover of the Landcom Universal Housing Design GuidelinesThe economics of accessible housing in Australia has been done at least twice, but that didn’t change anything. So it is not clear whether they will stall any decisions by saying they need more evidence or use the existing evidence. PD Hill in 1996 showed the economics of modifying and refitting a home added significantly to the costs of ageing in place, especially with government funded home modifications. Another economic study was done by Landcom (now UrbanGrowth) in 2008 and resulted in the Landcom Guidelines. The Livable Housing Design Guidelines are based on the Landcom Guidelines, which showed that if universal design features were included from the outset of the design (and not thought about at the end of the design process) it would be cost neutral in most cases, and perhaps an extra 1% of construction costs in difficult cases. Landcom’s analysis covered all dwelling types and showed that with some creative thinking, UD features could be included – it just required some extra thought.

And let us not forget the economic study by Smith, Rayer and Smith (2008 and 2011) that showed that any new home built today would have a 60% probability of having an occupant with a permanent disability, and a 91% probability of having a visitor with a disability. Two key sentences can be found in this study that have the potential to alter the perspective of planners and designers:

“Clearly, the probability of housing a disabled resident is substantially greater when measured over the lifetime of a housing unit than when measured at a single point in time.”

“Regardless of the specific assumptions used, however, two facts are beyond dispute: 1) The proportion of households with at least one disabled resident is substantially higher than the proportion of persons with disabilities, and 2) Most housing units are occupied by several households over their lifetimes.”

Editor’s note: You might like to consider contacting your state Building Minister (usually a title added to a planning minister or similar) to make sure they know the importance of universal design in housing for the upcoming meeting in Sydney in March 2017.