Ageing with Choice is Western Australia’s blueprint for “seniors housing”. One might ask, why only for older people? The Future Directions document has housing as part of the concept of being age-friendly and having connected communities. Some research went into the document and there are no real surprises. There are seven priority areas and a list of actions to follow. A good example of planning for the longevity revolution. A well set-out document with lots of infographics.
Editor’s Note: There should be a note of caution about ancillary dwellings in the family back yard. That is, if the family splits up or has to move with their jobs, what happens to grandma? She doesn’t own the land. Also, to date, most ancillary dwellings are rented out to supplement family income. But this is a good idea for increasing rental stock for all ages. Downsizing should also be cautioned in terms of living in a small home. Research is still showing a preference for three bedrooms to give “room to move” especially if partnered. But most older people want to downsize their maintenance and gardening. I also noted some of the infographics are still based on mythical population segments.
Strategy priorities are :
Age-friendly communities Homes that support ageing in place Affordable housing innovations and alternatives to home ownership Better options for renters A more age-responsive social housing system Assistance for those experiencing housing crisis Informed decision-making
Do homes really have to be larger to incorporate universal design features? Unlikely saysKay Saville-Smith, a housing researcher from New Zealand. In her keynote address at the UD Conference in 2014 she explained why. Her presentation discussed the “size fraud” and the mistaken idea that homes need to be larger and therefore more expensive. She also referred to the “blame game” where nothing changes because no-one takes the first step. Below is an excerpt from the full transcript of her presentation, Making Universal Design a Reality – Confronting Affordability.
“Builders like to talk about cost per square metre so the larger the living space, the cheaper the perceived cost. Although the floor space need not expand to bring in UD features, it is believed that you do. So people say they won’t pay for that – or more to the point the builders say that”.
She goes on to say, “…there are still the two old barriers to renovating and building homes with universal design and indeed the streetscape, and those two things are twofold. One is what I’ve talked about in the past as the vicious cycle of blame that goes on in the building industry, which is no-one wants to change to do anything because the other person hasn’t asked them to do it. Investors don’t want universal design, so I the builder can’t build that, but if investors want it, sure I will build it. Investors will say I can’t build it because the builder won’t come in at the right cost, and both of them blame the architect, of course, because the architect is off site at that point. So that is one issue. The other issue is that we have the “innovation chasm” where we have solutions but getting them taken up and getting to a tipping point where it’s an expectation of what you get out of the housing market, is a big jump and typically you need about 30% or so of the market to be taking that kind of innovation challenge rather than taking the opportunity to be an early adopter. 30% is a big jump…”
Habinteg is a provider of accessible homes in the UK. They have developed a Web-based Toolkit for Planning Policy that includes accessible housing. There are several tabs including one on the cost benefit arguments.
A review of Part M of the UK building code was commissioned to see what the costs would be to upgrade Part M of the building code. It was calculated at an additional £521, which is about 0.2% of a new house. Habinteg claims that no attempt was made to weigh anyadditional development costs against cost savings in other areas. For example, avoidable hospital admissions due to falls, impact on social care costs, and long stays in hospital due to no suitable home to return to. The calculated additional £521 for improved access standards would be more than met by avoiding one week in residential care.
“Australia needs housing that is fit for purpose. The preparation for a Regulatory Impact Assessment for a change to the National Construction Code provides a timely opportunity to meet our policy commitments also create housing that suits people across their lifespan. Housing is an important factor in determining our health outcomes and accessibility is recognised by the World Health Organisation as a major element.
Apart from increased size, Australian housing design has changed little in the last 50 or so years, save for fashionable cosmetic changes. Population demographics, community expectations, and the way we live our lives, have changed. Now is the time to be more inclusive in our mass market designs and consider all households – without the need for specialised design. Indeed, the inclusive, universal design approach, underpins the Livable Housing Design Guidelines – the guidelines that were developed by the housing industry.
Taking a disability-only approach as suggested in the Options Paper will discount the other beneficiaries when counting costs and benefits. In the early 2000s researchers called for a change in housing design to reflect an ageing population and our commitment to people with disability. They make the point that designing for these two groups includes convenience for many others, and that costs, if any, are minimal if considered at the outset.
The attempt to effect change through voluntary guidelines has failed. This is not surprising for an industry that relies on mandatory regulation to keep the fragmented house building system running smoothly and to maintain an industry-wide level playing field.
Finding the right terminology will be critical to finding the right outcomes. Misunderstandings about “accessibility” prevail. This term is quickly translated to “disabled design”. When improved access features are included in the NCC, it will become standard Australian Housing and no particular term will be needed. If a particular term is needed for the process of discussing change, we recommend the term “liveable” as in liveable cities. Alternatively we can jump straight to what it is, Australian housing.
The Building Ministers’ Forum (BMF) has asked that the Livable Housing Australia Guidelines at Silver and Gold levels be assessed. These Guidelines are well researched and tested over eight years and are referenced in many government publications and policies. For this reason, we recommend that the Gold level form the minimum requirements for inclusion in the NCC. Many of the elements over and above Silver level are cost neutral, are easy to apply and technically substantiated.
Gold level is framed around mobility issues (mobilising, reaching, bending, grasping). Other disabilities can be incorporated within these spatial elements. As these elements are based on the earlier Landcom Guidelines (2008), which were costed, we suggest that these costings be sourced and if necessary, updated.
Housing lies in a complex and contested landscape. While it is important for the industry to make a profit for shareholders, it is also important that they add value to the community from which they draw that profit.”
What gets in the way of building accessible housing?
How urgent is the problem?
What level of access is necessary?
ANUHD takes a disability rights approach and points out the National Disability Strategy should be a driving force for change and that the Livable Housing Design Guidelines Gold level is the best way to achieve our obligations to the National Disability Strategy and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. We all have a right to appropriate housing that is fit for purpose.
However, we can also take a universal design approach. The Livable Housing Design Guidelines mentioned in the Options Paper, take this approach. The Guidelines recognise that universal design features (accessible features) are just good design suited to everyone. It isn’t just about disability rights, it is also about home safety, productivity and economic gains for the community.
For more help on how to respond, see CUDA’s summary of the key points and a questionnaire with your comments that can be your submission, or part of your submission, to the Australian Building Codes Board. This is about our future homes and those of the ones we love.
Three academic articles come together for an intellectual tussle on housing theory and policy. David Clapham claims that there is a divide between researchers who focus on policy and those who focus on theory, and he asks where theory for housing research should come from and what it would look like. Hannu Ruonavaara, poses four positions about housing related theory: Is it possible to have one theory for all housing related research?; is it desirable to have one?; should we scrutinise housing as a special activity and experience?; and can we construct a theory about the relationships between the housing system and features of society? Manuel Aalbers, who in his article, asks What kind of theory for what kind of housing research? responds to both academics. He discusses the pros and cons of their arguments. The point about housing research being largely for the audience of other housing researchers is well made. He believes it is more important to demonstrate the relevance of housing research to other social scientists. More importantly it needs to influence policy. Not light reading, but fascinating if you are a housing researcher or interested in housing policy.
From the US another article that supports universal design in housing. To give context to the current challenges, it covers the history of housing from the Great Depression through to the current day. It poses the same arguments for (non) cost of universal design, and the imperatives for it. An interesting point is that there are now more Millennials than Boomers in the US and they will be the future drivers of the housing market. The article concludes that with declining home ownership rates, “Two solutions on the supply side are Universal Design and Accessory Dwelling Units, neither of which are currently supported by public policies. To increase wealth building and economic mobility in the short, middle, and distant future, local, regional, state, and national policy makers may want to focus on these and other innovative strategies.” Graphs help with explanations of statistics.
The article is on page 24 of the Realtor University publication, The Journal of The Center for Real Estate Studies. The article is titled, Past, Current and Future Housing Challenges in the United States. There are four other articles that might be of interest, rent growth, millennial home ownership, manufactured homes, and real estate investment. The text is not easy to read and is in two column format.
Article by Margaret Ward and Jill Franz, published in Housing and Space: Toward Socio-Spatial Inclusion (Social Inclusion, Vol 3 No2). An Open Access Journal.
This article outlines the findings from interviews with industry personnel about incorporating the 8 features agreed in the Livable Housing Design Guidelines. This is a telling paragraph: “In summary, when providing the eight features for visitability, the interviewees identified two themes for non-compliance (“lack of thought” and “otherness”) and three themes for compliance (“fashion”, “requirement’ and “good practice”). Although all dwellings provided some features, no dwelling provided a coherent path of travel necessary to make a dwelling visitable. Some examples of this incoherence were: a step-free driveway which led to a step at the door; a wide front door which led to a narrow corridor; and a narrow internal doorway which did not allow entry of a wheel-chair to a spacious bathroom. The provision of these access features separately and severally did not provide visitability as an outcome in any of the dwellings.