Housing aspirations of older Australians

An armchair is by a big window in a high rise building. Through the window you can see the tops of other buildings in the distance.Three bedrooms and urban living are what most older people want. These are two of the key findings in a new Australian report from AHURI. Age specific housing is not a preference. So researchers suggest more innovation to attract the older cohort so they can age in place after all. There was no mention the need to have homes already designed to suit so that age-specific housing doesn’t become the “no choice” option. This report is written with the property industry in mind. There was only a brief mention of homes being adaptable. 

The title of the research paper is, Older Australians and the housing aspirations gap. There are three separate documents: an Executive Summary and a Policy Evidence Summary. The full report is also available from the AHURI website.

Editor’s Comment: These research projects can take two years to complete. Consequently the action by the Australian Building Codes Board on Accessible Housing was not factored into the policy recommendations. One key point in the report is one that challenges the housing industry’s claim that “if they ask for it we will build it”. Older people are not even thinking of asking for it. Hence, regulations for both supply and demand sides of the market would be best all round. 


Apartment design audit without UD

Three shiny blue apartment towers rise into the sky.Health and wellbeing is the focus of an audit report of Australian state and territory apartment design guidelines. There is a passing mention about universal design and residential mobility at the end. These are considered indirect factors for wellbeing that might be worth researching at another time. There is a comparison chart of the similarities and differences between state and territory policies and guidelines. Many of these include universal design and accessibility, but these factors were not picked up in the comparison chart. The nationally recognised Livable Housing Design Guidelines were not referenced even though they also support health and wellbeing. This is an open access report and should be of interest to anyone in the residential housing sector. It is good to see there is a focus on quality of design.

The title of the paper is, The high life: A policy audit of apartment design guidelines and their potential to promote residents’ health and wellbeing

From the conclusions: “Finally, this audit focused on specific design themes known to impact health, however other design features also contribute to the experience of apartment living (e.g., storage, car/bike parking, lighting, universal design). While these features might not directly impact on health and wellbeing, they nonetheless contribute to the ease of long-term apartment living, and many policies include standards for such features. Given the evidence that apartment and neighbourhood satisfaction can reduce residential mobility and enhance mental health (Giles-Corti et al., 2012), these indirect factors may be worthy of investigation in future studies.”

Editor’s Comment: Given we have population ageing and housing demands by people who are NOT on the NDIS, I should have thought universal design and accessibility are essential to health and wellbeing. There is nothing healthy about not being able to get out of your home or being able to visit your family. The building code requires disability access into apartment buildings and public space, but not inside the dwellings – which is where universal design comes into play.

To move or not to move?

The corner view of an apartment building with red and white walls and a blue roof.There are many reasons people move house, or don’t move, in later life. It is often said that older people want to stay put, but this may not be the case. A recent study from Berlin, Germany looked at this issue in depth. While some of the findings might be specific to Berlin, the article raises questions that need further research. The Australian downsizing study by Bruce Judd and his team could perhaps do with an update?

The researchers found that variables such as social class, gender, age and migrant history were not necessarily measures of movement behaviour. The top three reasons that emerged were: to have a smaller apartment, an obstacle-free apartment, and to move to a cheaper apartment. 

The title of the article is, Why Do(n’t) People Move When They Get Older? Estimating the Willingness to Relocate in Diverse Ageing Cities.  This is an open access article in Urban Planning journal. 


Caroma designs with people

Two researchers are creating the walls for a bathroom in the university lab.Caroma – the bathroom people, and University of New South Wales got together to do some hands-on research on bathroom fittings with  a group of older people. The resulting report covers the collaborative research methods as well as the attitudes and feelings of older people towards assistive fittings and designs. The title of the Caroma report is Ageing Joyfully

Older people feel stigmatised by “special” designs. Some fittings, such as a small grab rail, could be included as standard in all bathrooms therefore avoiding the stigma. Then we would have safer bathrooms for all (universal design). 

Here is a quote from the report that shows how stigma prevents some people from adapting their homes: “One member of a co-design group remembered the time her husband was prescribed grab rails “The shudders went through, it has come to this!” However, after having the rails for a long time she found herself using them more and more, said she wouldn’t be without them and thought they would benefit everyone. ‘If it were standard it would be normal’ and so would have no stigma of being associated only with the frail elderly.”

The report offers advice for designers, “For designers, working collaboratively with older people provides a rapid feedback on assumptions and design proposals. Older people have at least as varied aesthetic preferences as any other cohort, and they have a powerful connection between home and identity.”

Front cover of Caroma Ageing Joyfully ReportEditor’s note: It is a pity the front cover picture is a stock item showing a young person in a carer uniform semi-embracing an older woman in a wheelchair. As we know, this is not indicative of the breadth of the older population. It was probably chosen by the designer contracted to layout the document.


Accessible Housing Regulation Update

Here is the latest news from Australian Network for Universal Housing Design (ANUHD) on the Australian Building Codes Board project:

“The Australian Building Codes Board is undertaking a Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS) for potential minimum accessibility standards for housing, to be applied through the National Construction Code (NCC). 
Following the release of the Accessible Housing Options Paper Consultation Report, the ABCB will commence work on the formal Regulation Impact Statement (RIS), as per the timeline published on the ABCB website.
Research into the role of State/Territory and Local Government planning policies which may relate to housing accessibility is now complete.
The research, conducted by SGS Economics and Planning on behalf of the ABCB, has identified many instances where planning policies are relevant to housing accessibility. The research has also identified variations in stringency, application and technical standards adopted, consistent with many of the views put forward regarding planning policy in responses to the Options Paper.
Technical development of draft NCC provisions is still underway. 
This work is being done in-house by the ABCB. Sourceable has an article giving an overview of the NCC and how it works.
The open tender process for the formal Regulation Impact Statement (RIS) has started and closes 29 July 2019.
Information is available on AusTender:  All questions regarding the tender should be submitted though AusTender link. It is anticipated that the above work will be published in conjunction with the Consultation RIS.
ANUHD will continue to monitor the progress of this work. Stakeholders will be notified once the Consultation RIS is released.
Further information: ABCB Accessible Housing Project

What evidence? I’ll stick to what I know

Basilica tower at Pisa, Italy. It shows the lean to the right compared to the Basilica building. A culturally-ingrained habit of confirmation bias might be one of the reasons we still don’t have universal design in mass market housing. “This is the way it’s been done in the past, and no one’s been sued, therefore we will stick to this”. This quote from a stakeholder in an article by The Fifth Estate might be why the house building industry is missing the big picture.  The article is based on research by Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute where they looked at the question of social housing being treated as infrastructure in the same way as transport. But should it be treated as infrastructure or continue to be treated as welfare? According to the article, the most popular form of evidence used was feedback from previous projects: which implies that the practitioners tended not to look outside of their comfort zone. That’s how confirmation bias begins especially when the building industry claims that research is too hard to understand.

The Fifth Estate Article is titled, Why the building industry and social housing are missing the big picture. The AHURI article is a Policy Evidence Summary, Understanding business case frameworks for social housing. It is based on the Final Report No. 312.  

Economic arguments for UD in Housing

A line of complex manufacturing machinery used to show the complex process and number of stakeholders involved in mass market housing.Economic arguments are often seen as the most persuasive way to change the design of mass market homes. Research papers over several years have produced solid economic arguments for universal design, but they have failed in their quest. So the issues are beyond those of economics. Regardless, for those who want the research, here is a list of papers, including the cost effectiveness of home modifications (or not needing them in the first place). This is not an exhaustive list, but gives and idea of what work has been done.

The cost of NOT including accessibility in new homes This landmark article by Smith, Rayer and Smith (2008) uses complex economic methodologies to show that a new home built today has a 65% likelihood of having an occupant with a permanent disability. It is often forgotten that people with disability live in families – not alone.

A cost benefit analysis of adaptable homes by urban economist Martin Hill of Hill PDA. This conference paper was written in 1999 and shows how long these arguments have been running. The context is adaptable housing – the forerunner of universal design concepts in housing. It was prepared for the NSW Department of Urban Affairs and Planning.

Home adaptations: Costs? or Savings? A survey of local authorities and Home Improvement Agencies: Identifying the hidden cost of providing a home adaptations service. 

R&D incentives for UD in housing: Norwegian experience. This article discusses financial incentives in the context of creating change in the mindset of the house building industry.

Accessible housing: costs and gains This article evaluates the costs and gains of modifying homes

Using Building Information Modeling with UD Strategies This article develops a technical framework to evaluate the costs and benefits of building projects. 

Universal design in housing from a planning perspective  A comprehensive look at the housing landscape, an ageing population, and the need for universal design in housing.

Universal design in housing – does it really have to cost more? In a down to earth fashion Kay Saville-Smith discusses the “size fraud”

Barriers to Universal Design in Australian Housing is a short paper based on a thesis which gives an indication of why economic arguments alone are insufficient to bring about change.  

Housing, older people and resilience

An old weatherboard farm building sits in front of a tall dark brooding mountain.People want to stay put as they age. That means housing design is critical in supporting this desire, as well as ageing-in-place policies. A new study from New Zealand looked at issues of appropriate housing for older people, and how people and communities can develop resilience to adverse natural events. The findings relate to ageing societies across the globe and within the context of changing environmental conditions. The decision tools that researchers devised from this participatory research are useful for older people and for architects and other designers. 

The title of the article by Bev James and Kay Saville-Smith is “Designing housing decision-support tools for resilient older people“. There are several useful references at the end of this excellent study. 

ABSTRACT: Our ageing populations make it critical that older people continue to live and participate in their communities. ‘Ageing in place’, rather than in residential care, is desired by older people themselves and promoted as policy in many countries. Its success, both as policy and practice, depends on housing. House performance, resilience, functionality and adaptability are all essential to maintaining independence. Three New Zealand research programmes have worked with older people to investigate issues around housing, ‘ageing in place’ and how older people and communities can become resilient to adverse natural events. Using participatory research techniques, those programmes have generated evidence-based decision-support tools to help older people maintain independence. These tools have been co-designed and widely tested with older people and others. Designed to help older people identify priorities and information requirements, assess diverse factors determining thermal performance and dwelling resilience as well as repairs and maintenance needs, the tools help improve decisions around: repairs and maintenance assessment and solutions; dwelling and location choices and housing options. Various organizations have adopted the tools. This work demonstrates how research outputs can be used to facilitate older people’s housing choices while also giving architects and designers guides for meeting older people’s housing needs.

Image by David Mark.

App for adapting homes to be dementia-friendly

A 3D layout of a home looking down to see the room layouts.Assessing an existing home for its level of dementia-friendliness is made easier with a new App called IRIDIS. It was devised by researchers at Sterling University. Most people think dementia is about memory loss, but this is only part of the story. Visual perception is a major factor in getting out and about and around the home. Colour contrasts and lighting become more important for people with dementia along with any other health conditions they might have. An article from UK on Homecare.co.uk webpage has more. The IRIDIS App can be found on Google Play and Apple Store. It is useful for family members and professionals alike.

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.