The idea of universal design in housing is not new. In spite of academic research proving the need for it, and practice guidelines based on real lives, we are still a long way from achieving access for everyone at home. With the Accessible Housing Consultation Regulation Impact Statement(RIS) out for comment, I thought it useful to pull together a few resources on housing.
There is more on the RIS in a related post, UD in housing: Beyond wheelchairs. The consultation process is not inclusive or accessible unless you are an industry stakeholder. But you can send your story to Kieran O’Donnell at the Australian Building Codes Board by email.
Universal design in housing faces the same policy and industry challenges as the sustainability movement. Consumers are unclear about their choice, and confused by terminology and rating systems. Home builders are locked into supply chains that limit innovation, and financial institutions can’t see the value of such designs.
Tomorrow’s homes: A policy framework outlines how the structure of the housing industry creates restrictions on doing anything differently. It also has suggestions for appealing to consumers by using language they relate to. Comfortable, healthy, affordable, easy to use – in short, appealing to their aspirations. Consumers don’t frame their aspirations in words such as sustainable, accessible, or universal design. And they don’t aspire to ageing or disability.
The document concludes with a call for home builders to engage in the sustainable housing market now rather than wait for regulation. However, a voluntary approach hasn’t turned out well for accessible housing.
Anyone interested in the housing market and housing policy will find this a useful document. Easy to read and well laid out it argues the case for policy reform in housing design.
The Longevity Revolution along with the recent pandemic is asking questions about aged care and retirement living. Can we keep doing the same? The short answer is no, but what to do instead?
A report from an architectural group reviews the literature and makes some strategic suggestions for the future. The research looked at how the market can re-align itself to the aspirations of upcoming ageing generations. As we know from previous research, it isn’t looking like retirement villages, and there’s a preference for aged care at home.
The costs of aged care are discussed at length. Consequently, affordable strategies are needed for both older people and for government.
Using models from overseas they suggest serviced apartments, communal flats and co-housing. Multi-generational living is presented as a new idea. It is premised on the notion that people will be happy to move when their current home no longer suits. We already have multi-generational living in our existing neighbourhoods. The homes just aren’t accessible for everyone at every age. Nevertheless, the researchers eschew the notion of mandatory universal design standards in dwellings.
The report returns to the notion of specialised housing products for older people and talks of being able to convert “normal dwellings” to enable home care. The multi-generational neighbourhood model is presented as a combination of different housing options where young and old exchange services.
The title of the report is Aged Care in Australia and argues for the market to create new and sustainable ideas. It was prepared by Architectural Research Consultancy for Carabott Holt Architects.
Editor’s note: Researchers claim the Productivity Commission supports voluntary uptake of universal design standards, not regulation (see p.4). Nevertheless, the Productivity Commission recognises, “The Australian Government should develop building design standards for residential housing that meet the access and mobility needs of older people.” (See the Summary of Proposals.) The PC report goes back to 2011 when Livable Housing Australia was set up to lead a voluntary roll out of UD features in housing. As we know, this has not worked.
What about a post-pandemic social housing stimulus project? Not a new idea, but such ideas usually relate to new housing. So what about modifying existing social housing? This is so that people can stay in their community for longer as they age. Lisa King argues the case in a research paper with a focus on older women.
King’s paper begins with a literature review of the issues related to older women and housing. The case study takes the floor plans of existing dwellings and makes changes to show how to make them more accessible. The case study includes studio units and two bedroom units. There is also a site plan, a demolition plan and costings too.
King summarises the research by giving a rationale for choosing 1960s dwellings, and says the project is scaleable, modular and cost effective. In addition, this type of work provides employment for small and medium businesses. And of course, it optimises existing stock while improving the lives of residents. King sums up with, “The result would be universally accessible housing and an asset which would assist meet the growing demand for residents to age-in-place with dignity.”
All new housing should be designed for accessibility to the silver level of the Livable Housing Design Guidelines. This is one of the recommended policy actions from AHURI research on indigenous housing. A systematic inspection process for new builds to ensure compliance with the guidelines is also needed. They also recommend a new classification in the building code for “housing for Indigenous people”. Researchers found housing conditions were poor, inaccessible and that few people were aware of modifications for making life easier.
Indigenous Australians have a high rate of disability and chronic illness but there is little housing available to support them. Disability is under-reported in this population, particularly in remote areas. This is because the concept of disability varies between urban and rural locations. In urban areas where people know about the NDIS their understanding of disability is similar to the non-indigenous population. Remote communities relate disability as wheelchairs.
Editor’s note: Regardless of cultural heritage, all Australians need to have housing fit for purpose and it will be interesting to see what the Australian Building Codes Board’sRegulatory Impact Statement (RIS) on accessible housing will recommend in June 2020.
There are five key areas for healthy housing and accessibility is one of them.The WHO latest guidelines on housing and health takes into consideration ageing populations and people with functional impairments. It recommends an “adequate proportion of housing stock should be accessible.
In the remarks section it argues that living in an accessible home improves both independence and health outcomes. Although the guidelinesargue for a proportion of housing stock it has put the issue on the agenda. It shows it is as important as all other factors. However, the notion of proportion can lead some agencies to think that means specialised and segregated housing. It is worth noting that the lead author of this section is an Australian, Professor Peter Phibbs.
The other key areas are crowding, indoor cold, indoor heat, and home safety. For more detail there is an additional document showing method and results of the systematic review that underpinned this section of the Guidelines – Web Annex F. and includes interventions such as home modifications and assistive technology.
The top five reasons for multigenerational living are financial, care arrangements and support, adult children yet to leave, starting or continuing education, and older (grand)parents moving in. The reasons behind the trend towards multigenerational living are not quite as simple as the list implies. Cultural factors are also part of the story. Home ownership of a detached dwelling is critical to successful multigenerational living. There is usually greater flexibility to modify and adapt the home as needs change, which is not possible in apartments or rental properties.
These are the findings in a book chapterby Edgar Lui, Hazel Easthope, Bruce Judd and Ian Burnley. They end the chapter by discussing policy implications and include the need to adopt universal design principles in all new properties and major refurbishments. They add that although these principles have been around for more than 50 years they are yet to materialise in home designs as voluntary codes which are unlikely to be agents of change.
Brief introduction to the book by Routledge: “Over the last two decades new and significant demographic, economic, social and environmental changes and challenges have shaped the production and consumption of housing in Australia and the policy settings that attempt to guide these processes. These changes and challenges, as outlined in this book, are many and varied. While these issues are new they raise timeless questions around affordability, access, density, quantity, type and location of housing needed in Australian towns and cities. The studies presented in this text also provide a unique insight into a range of housing production, consumption and policy issues that, while based in Australia, have implications that go beyond this national context. For instance how do suburban-based societies adjust to the realities of aging populations, anthropogenic climate change and the significant implications such change has for housing? How has policy been translated and assembled in specific national contexts? Similarly, what are the significantly different policy settings the production and consumption of housing in a post-Global Financial Crisis period require? Framed in this way this book accounts for and responds to some of the key housing issues of the 21st century.”
The terms “visitable housing” and “visitability” are essentially about people who use mobility aids having the same rights to visit friends and family in their homes. It doesn’t necessarily mean they can live there or stay overnight. The three key features associated with visitability are a step free entrance, wider doorways and a usable toilet on the entry level. These features are reflected in Part M of the UK building code. Various states in the US have tried to encourage uptake of visitability, but it is not mandated.
Visitability differs from full accessibility and universal design. It is a minimal baseline seen by some as a cost effective way to entice the property industry to get on board with the ideas. Although the concept has been around for twenty years, it has gained little, if any, traction. Visitability is not a concept easy to sell unless the buyer thinks they need it. And few do.
A research project carried out in Ohio in 2015 looked at: home-buyers’ perceived value and perceptions of visitable features; developer, designer and builder perspectives; real estate agent views; estimated costs; and which house buyers were most likely to buy. The aim of the report was to create a persuasive argument for adopting visitability in new homes in Ohio. However, the researchers acknowledge industry resistance and suggest incentives to encourage uptake, or mandating the features.
The report is structured into three sections based on their surveys of three groups: homeowners and home buyers, industry stakeholders, and real estate agents. All groups were asked to assess photos of visitable features in homes. In all instances, participants believed the homes would sell for more and sell more quickly. Industry stakeholders estimated the features would cost less than one per cent of construction costs. This is in line with other research.
Why do we keep building homes as if we are never going to grow old? The answer is complex. But the perceptions of developers, designers and builders gives us some insights. A Brisbane study collected data from site-visits, building documents and interviews with industry stakeholders. Four key themes emerged showing why nothing has changed: voluntary approach, otherness, immediacy, and inertia.
The strongest theme was the voluntary approach. It’s considered too risky to be a first mover – it could be a disadvantage. There is a view that people needing inclusive housing are not part of the mainstream market – they are “others”. Group homes and retirement villages were seen as the answer. Inclusive design was assumed to be ugly and undesirable. Therefore it couldn’t be marketed.
In terms of immediacy, the focus is the new home buyer not the long term use of the dwelling. It was also assumed that a young family wouldn’t want it. Consequently there isn’t a market for it. Inertia, was expressed as the reluctance to “change the way we do things around here”. The culture of building by rote dominates the house building system.
There is more in this study about interventions that might assist, one being regulation. Keeping a competitive level playing field is paramount in the industry. Bottom line, inclusive housing is not perceived as mainstream and therefore someone else’s responsibility. Consequently the Livable Housing Design Guidelines are insufficient in themselves to bring about change.
Home builders argue that people won’t pay extra for universal design features. The assumption of extra cost aside, they are also assuming that people wouldn’t pay more. But would they? A study from Europe asked just that question and the answers are surprising. Renting is the norm in many European countries and so it is difficult to compare with owning. However, finding out how much extra rent people are prepared to pay gives us some indication.
A survey of renters in Germany and Slovakia found that 40 per cent would pay an extra 10% more, and 40 per cent would pay up to 20% more for a more accessible dwelling. Only 12% said they would not pay more. And the age of the respondents wasn’t a factor in the findings. The survey covered many other aspects of home living, and the findings are detailed in the article. There’s lots to take away from this study – the willingness to pay more for an adaptable or accessible dwelling is just one factor.
Editor’s Note: Another way to measure the worth of universal design in housing is to ask, “How much would you pay to stay home and not go to aged care – what would that be worth?”
Abstract:The role of this study was to determine which changes people think they need to make in their home in response to getting older. At an advanced age, the likelihood of different limitations, such as vision impairment, hearing impairment, or physical inability, are increased. At present, when faced with such limitations, tenants are often forced to leave their long-term living spaces, as these spaces cannot serve their “new” individual needs. This transition from the privacy of their home to a new environment is often a painful change. They must leave a well-known environment, as their homes cannot be adapted to their new needs. The aim of this paper is to develop a comprehensive approach for the design of an exterior and interior space which can serve people through all stages of life, particularly in terms of mobility. This means that, even if an unexpected situation incurs changes in an individual’s movement abilities or physiological limitations not only by natural aging, but also according to accidents or disabilities their living space can be adapted to the given conditions. The results of a survey conducted in Germany and Slovakia are presented. In the survey, respondents expressed their opinion on what they considered important in creating an adaptive environment, considering various life changes. Based on the results of the survey, studies of possible modifications of flats and houses are developed. These results are analyzed in terms of three age groups: people aged below 35, those aged 35–50, and those aged over 50. People under 35 are considered to be quite young, with different views on life and on the environment. Their priorities typically differ from those of people around 50. People aged 50 more; have been under medical treatment for a consistent amount of time. This group of people is still active; however, they experience different design requirements for their potential home.