Accessible Housing Report from ABCB

Timeline for the next steps to the Regulatory Impact Statement.Last year the Australian Building Codes Board released an Options Paper on Accessible Housing for comment. They have collated the information from the 179 submissions and produced a report. The 121 page report does not have recommendations about accessible housing. Rather, it leaves this to governments. The document identifies factors to shape the next stage of the project, the Regulation Impact Statement. The Executive Summary lists some of the key issues raised in the submissions:

 There is a need to consider aligning the project objectives to the concepts of equity and independence, and consideration of the principles of universal design.
 Previous government commitments, including the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability and the COAG National Disability Strategy, were generally interpreted as commitments to regulate accessible housing.
 The prevalence of households with an occupant with a disability and the future impact of the population ageing need to be properly taken into account in establishing the need for regulation of accessible housing.
 Consideration should be given to the application of accessible housing provisions on difficult sites, where local planning policies may also impact upon the feasibility of an access standard applied to housing.
 Consideration should be given to residential tenancies legislation that may be restricting some groups from obtaining suitable housing or modifying rental housing to improve its accessibility.
 The importance of a step-free path to the dwelling entry door, and conversely, the practical difficulties associated with mandating such a feature in 100 per cent of circumstances. 
 Whether or not features that are more difficult to retrofit — generally referred to as ‘structural features’ — should be prioritised in the design of possible NCC changes.
 Qualitative, or intangible, benefits should be identified and given due consideration in the RIS, as well as ensuring that it goes beyond consideration of people with a disability. Generally, stakeholders suggested that such benefits include reduced social isolation, and increased community participation and inclusion.
 It is important that costs are accurately quantified and the distribution of costs and regulatory burdens between industry and consumers is clearly identified.
 Although outside the scope of the NCC, non-regulatory options — including financial incentives and the further development and promotion of voluntary guidelines — should still be assessed against regulatory options and considered by governments.

While submissions are not public, references to various submissions are included within the document, including ours (CUDA), and the Australian Network for Universal Housing Design. The next steps for the project are provided in an infographic shown above.

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The cost of not including UD in housing

new home construction site with timber on the ground.A New Zealand report on the value of including universal design in all new homes claims that it is more costly not to incorporate these features. It found that for $500 the design of most new builds could incorporate these user-friendly features. However, some designs could cost up to $8000, if they needed major changes, but costs could be avoided if the redesign was configured within the current footprint. The costings are for both materials and labour.

Their analysis was for the whole population because there are cost advantages for including UD features from the outset in all new homes. Today’s new house has a high likelihood of being occupied by a family that has disability or ageing present. This is in line with the landmark study by Smith, Rayer and Smith in 2008.

While this report does not quantify any cost savings to health budgets, it points out that there are savings to be made. For example, each fall at home has an average medical cost of more than $1000. Even if only 10% of falls were reduced, this would be a saving of $27m per year. These and other saved care costs further justify the requirement to have UD features in all new homes.

This is a very comprehensive report with cost calculations based on existing floor plans for new homes. They use the term User-Friendly in their reporting as this captures the concept that the features are beneficial for everyone.

The title of the 2011 study is Lifetime Housing – The value case. It was funded by Branz, the New Zealand building research body. It was referenced in the WHO Housing and Health Guidelines in the chapter on accessible housing. The WHO report claims it is 22% cheaper to include the features in all new builds.

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Urban planning for population longevity

A row of two storey houses painted in different pastel colours.Urban designers can be champions for improvements for population ageing. That is a key theme in an article that proposes ways for helping older people stay put in their home, and if not, in their community. The article discusses current innovations to make neighbourhoods and homes more supportive both physically and socially. These include: enriching neighbourhoods, providing collective services, building all-age neighbourhoods, creating purpose-built supportive housing, developing smallscale intergenerational models, and engaging mobility, delivery, and communications innovations.

The title of the article is, “Improving housing and neighborhoods for the vulnerable: older people, small households, urban design, and planning”. You will need institutional access for a free read from SpringerLink. Or you can access via ResearchGate and request a copy of the article.

Abstract: The number of older people who need help with daily tasks will increase during the next century. Currently preferences and policies aim to help older people to stay in their existing homes, to age in place, even as they become less able to care for themselves and, increasingly, live alone. However, the majority of homes in the U.S. and many other countries are not designed to support advanced old age or are not located to easily provide support and services. The paper explores the needs of older people experiencing frailty. It examines the existing range of innovations to make neighbourhoods and homes more supportive, physically, socially, and in terms of services. These include: enriching neighbourhoods, providing collective services, building all-age neighbourhoods, creating purpose-built supportive housing, developing smallscale intergenerational models, and engaging mobility, delivery, and communications innovations. Some will allow people to remain in their current dwelling but others focus on people remaining in a local community. Few are widely available at present. Urban designers can more fully engage with the multiple challenges of those who have physical, sensory, and cognitive impairments and living in solo households by becoming champions for a more comprehensive set of public realm improvements and linkages.

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Age-Friendly Housing Resources: A List

Front cover showing yellow boxes approximating rooms in homes.RIBA’s Age Friendly Housing publication, has an updated and long Reading List that brings together a selection of  articles not previously referenced in Age-Friendly Housing: Future design for older people. The updated reading list reflects a selection of relevant reports published since the launch of the RIBA book in July 2018. Also there are also two websites with further lists of design-related resources relating to age friendly and accessible housing: Design Hub – Building homes and communities, and a research collection on zotero, the RIBA research library.  

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Housing Design Guide from South Australia

Photo used for front cover of guide. It shows an outdoor area similar to a veranda.Housing for Life: Designed for Living was developed for the South Australian Government with an emphasis on population ageing and supporting active ageing policies. The report documents the features and factors that older people themselves identified as important as well as industry perspectives. It also outlines the economic arguments for considering the housing needs of older people. Examples of floor plans are included. The key principles identified through the co-design process are: 

Choice: Older people want to have choices about how they live, and scope to personalise their homes.
Quality: It is better to invest in quality fixtures and fittings now for better efficiency and maintenance in the long term.
Wellbeing: Wellbeing is a direct result of connectedness with community and home.
Design: The concept of passive and flexible design that adapts to people’s changing requirements, needs to be central to new Housing SA builds.
Cost: Older people prefer smart investment and the ability to personalise their homes, to ensure cost efficiencies are retained, but without sacrificing good design.
Smart: The integration of smart technology and renewable energy ensures these homes stand the test of time and remain affordable.
Access: Proximity to transport, services and the community is fundamental to living and ageing well, as are neighbourhoods that are easy to get around and foster active travel choices.

The report concludes: “There is significant economic opportunity to be gained by addressing housing, social and ageing related needs through innovative design.
> Technology has a critical role to play in meeting unmet needs for independent living, connected living and well-designed housing.
> Older people are an extremely diverse group and no single design will meet all needs. Age friendly housing options should be as diverse as the people who will live in them. However, there are core principles that apply across this population group and from these, flexible design can be developed.
> Co-design between the housing sector and end-users is essential for accurate and relevant design.
> Quality design and product are highly valued and of equal importance to design features that address ageing-related challenges.
> Features that are valued in age friendly housing and neighbourhood design are energy efficiency, natural lighting, connection between indoor and outdoor spaces, walkability, proximity to transport and services, connection to community balanced with privacy and security, and capacity for personalisation.”

The report is 16 pages in PDF.

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Dementia friendly home design

Front cover of UD Dementia Friendly homesThe Centre for Excellence in Universal Design in Ireland has a comprehensive set of guidelines for creating dementia friendly dwellings, both new and existing. They have also published the extensive research that underpins the guidelines. Although the resource has a focus on conditions in Ireland, there is good information for everyone. It includes useful examples and design checklists. The key point is that dementia friendly dwellings are not exclusive – taking a universal design approach means that anyone can live in them.

There are five sections to the guidelines that can be downloaded separately: Introduction, Location and Approach, Entering, Exiting and Moving Around, Spaces for Living, and Elements and Systems. Or you can download the sizeable guide in one go.  

Apart from some of the other issues of ageing (although dementia can be experienced at any age), here are some of the key factors that need to be considered in the design:

● Impaired rational thinking, judgement, and problem-solving.
● Difficulty with memory (initially short-term but progressing over time to long-term memory difficulties).
● Problems learning new things.
● Increasing dependence on the senses.
● Fear anxiety and increased sensitivity to the built and psycho-social environment. 

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It pays to be sustainable and inclusive

A desktop with a sheet of printed calculations, a calculator and measuring instrument with coins.Interesting results are reported in an engineering and mathematics research paper from Europe on the costs of including both sustainability and inclusive design thinking in dwellings. All costs involved in constructing a home were taken into account: materials, labour, construction, and the running and maintenance costs of sub-components over the entire life-cycle of a home, which is a nominal fifty year period. The authors claim that by taking the cost savings due to efficiency and adaptability of the home, there is a 23.35% reduction in overall costs. Therefore it makes sense to take this path for cost reasons alone: “If it were not for any other reason, like protecting the environment or caring for [people with disability] and for our comfort, there would still be a valid point in using these materials and technologies from the costs’ point of view”. The paper includes graphs and detailed calculation tables. The title of the paper is “Techniques for ensuring cost savings and environment protection in buildings” and is published in Applied Mathematics, Mechanics, and Engineering Vol. 61, Issue IV, November 2018. 

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WHO Housing, Health & Accessibility

Multi coloured graphic depicting the key elements in the guidelines "How housing can improve health and well-being".The WHO latest guidelines on housing and health have five key areas and accessibility is one of them. The “strong recommendation” is, “Based on current and projected national prevalence of populations with functional impairments and taking into account trends of ageing, an adequate proportion of the housing stock should be accessible to people with functional impairments.” In the remarks it argues that living in an accessible home improves both independence and health outcomes. Although the guidelines argue 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, Prof 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. 

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Longevity, housing, carrots and sticks

A view of a narrow street with two storey buildings on either side and shops with high rise buildings in the background. With 28% of the population over 65 years, suitable housing is a critical policy area for Japan. In his latest article, Satoshi Kose argues for ageing in place and compares Japan with UK and US housing policy from an ageing perspective. Voluntary guidelines for new housing has not worked and Kose says in his conclusion that viewing housing construction as a booster for economic growth where quality of design is out of question means that “Japan must pay the cost of that ignorance as the country grows older and older.” Australia should heed this warning. The title of the article is, “Housing Design for the Ageing: Struggle Toward Supporting Age-in-Place Instead of Special Housing for Seniors”. The article discusses the attempts made in Japan, UK and US to introduce universal design features but with little success. He concludes we need both carrot and stick approach – regulations and incentives. The housing industry is complex in all three cases and this is why we need both carrot and stick (for our housing donkey?)

Satoshi Kose has been writing and researching housing design over many years. He is Emeritus Professor at Shizuoka University of Art and Culture. This paper was presented at the UDHEIT2018 Conference

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Sea Change or Urban Uplift?

long view of a Perth city mall with shops and cafes under awnings and trees for shade. Tall buildings are in the backgroundA thoughtful article from an architectural group about ageing in the urban context. While some retirees will seek a sea change to resort-style living, others want to stay connected to their families and established neighbourhoods. The article critiques the age-restricted model and proposes alternatives, one of which is flexibility of design across the housing market so that people can receive care at home when it is needed. This fits with the principles of universal design as outlined in the Livable Housing Design Guidelines at Gold level. Other key points are inter-generational interaction, connectivity, inclusion, and proximity to conveniences. A good article on Aged Care Insite from an architect’s perspective. 

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