Housing Design Guide from South Australia

Photo used for front cover of guide. It shows an outdoor area similar to a veranda.Want to know what older people want in home design? The Housing for Life: Designed for Living guide 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 report is 16 pages in PDF. The key principles identified through the co-design process are: 

Choice: Older people want choices about how they live
Quality: It is better to invest in quality fixtures and fittings now for better efficiency 
Wellbeing: Wellbeing is a direct result of connectedness with community and home.
Design: The concept of passive and flexible design 
Cost: They prefer smart investment and the ability to personalise their homes
Smart: Smart technology and renewable energy stand the test of time
Access: Proximity to transport, services and the community is fundamental 

> Technology has a critical role to play in meeting unmet needs for independent living, connected living and well-designed housing.
> Older people are a diverse group and no single design will meet all needs. 
> 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. 

Front cover of the reportA related report from the US has similar recommendations. Researchers in South Dakota found lack of demand was overstated and that the role of terminology plays an important part in consumer perception. In their study, participants assessed the appropriateness of different situations using vignettes. Participants were also asked about the relevance of UD in everyday life, and whether UD sounded environmentally friendly, attractive, or expensive. 

The report has an executive summary and recommendations that follow other US studies in recommending visitability features (similar to Silver level of Livable Housing Guidelines). This is because the original concept of UD provides for an iterative process of continuous improvement and adaptation. “Therefore, any attempt for widespread implementation will likely be cumbersome and counterproductive”. 

The title of the report is, Housing Across the Lifespan:Consumer knowledge and preferences.  By Leacy E Brown, Jane Strommen and Susan Ray-Deggs.

Editor’s note: From a purist UD position I agree that regulation or a standard can be counterproductive. From a pragmatic position it needs regulation in housing because it is the only way to get cohesion of results across this fragmented industry.

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 backgroundWhile some retirees will seek a sea change to resort-style living, others want to stay connected to their families and established neighbourhoods. Some might even be thinking about planning renovations to make staying put easier. A place in the country sounds ideal, but is it the right choice?

An article in Aged Care Insite critiques the age-restricted model of villages. It asks if this is a sustainable model into the future. The article was written in 2018 and shows foresight given today’s issues with aged care. Many of the current issues are discussed and the author, Susan Mathews questions if this is the right way forward. 

Mathews 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  from an architect’s perspective. The title of the article is Aged Care in the urban context: what’s missing?  

Universal design in housing: The time has come

House half built showing timber frameworkTime has come for the housing industry to catch up with the rest of society. Inclusion and diversity are now recognised as Australian values. Discrimination still exists of course, but many sectors, business and government, are striving to do better. That means designing products and services to embrace population diversity. However, the housing industry continues to resist change. They say it will substantially increase the cost of building a home. But how much is “substantially”.

Smaller building firms have shown that for a maximum of $3000 they can deliver universally designed homes. That’s because they thought of the design from the outset. They have changed the cookie cutter.

One of the reasons the housing industry says it will cost more is because level entry is difficult to achieve on a steep slope. This can be true, but that is no reason for no change at all. Exceptions would be made for one-off situations. Besides, mass market housing in a greenfield site is rarely on a steep slope – these are not favoured by developers. That’s because it cuts down on building efficiency. But any excavation needed benefits builders too.

The Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) is asking for people to comment on their consultation document on Accessible Housing. This is a difficult read. It is a very long and convoluted way of concluding costs outweigh benefits. However, the wrong question was researched. It shouldn’t be, “can we afford to make changes?” It should be “we need to make changes, what’s the best way to make it happen?” 

Fortunately, two eminent economists responded to the call to comment and they have concluded the opposite. The benefits outweigh the costs. Also dense reading but the document challenges the ABCB document at every point. They also conclude that Gold level of the Livable Housing Design Guidelines are not only beneficial to the community but they offer the best value overall. 

You can respond with your story of how the design of your home, or that of a family member, has impacted their life. Good, bad and ugly stories are welcome. Send an email to Kieran O’Donnell at the ABCB. Every story counts. Like a picture, it paints a 1000 words for politicians.

Just because accessible features make sense to most of us, do not assume it is a done deal. We still need grass roots action.

For others who want to respond directly to the ABCB document, Australian Network for Universal Housing Design has circulated a final draft of their response. It covers every point. The date for close of submissions is 31 August 2020.

Australia Cannot Afford NOT to Build Accessible Homes, gives an overview of why we must mandate universal design features now. We’ve had ten years for Livable Housing Australia to show that it can do this voluntarily. It has failed. It’s time for them to come good.

 

Tomorrow’s Homes: A sustainability perspective

Tomorrows Homes front coverUniversal 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. 

The Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council (ASBEC) has devised a policy framework for transitioning to sustainable homes. It identifies five key actions:

    1. National leadership
    2. Benchmarking and upskilling
    3. Building a foundation of leading homes
    4. Engaging consumers
    5. Leveraging finance

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. 

For a crash course in housing policy, sign up to CUDA’s free housing policy online learning: Home Coming? Framing housing policy for the future

WHO Housing, Health & Accessibility

Multi coloured graphic depicting the key elements in the guidelines "How housing can improve health and well-being".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 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, 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. 

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.

Housing for All is a policy imperative

A new home showing the entry with six steps to the front door.Campaigning for the Australian federal election drew attention to the lack of accessible housing in Australia. But the headlines were not for the right reasons. The Fifth Estate magazine picked up on this in an article titled, What Peter Dutton and the building industry need to know about housing for all. The article by Willow Aliento focuses on the state of play in Australia rather than the headline. It is timely for The Fifth Estate to cover this now. The Australian Building Codes Board is about to embark on a Regulation Impact Statement on proposed changes to the way we currently design homes. This is the next step in the process. They circulated an Options Paper on Accessible Housing last year, and released a report on the feedback in March this year. Good to see an industry magazine taking up the issue, doing the research and covering it broadly. 

The house in the picture is representative of many new inaccessible homes currently being built today.  

CUDA’s Reponse to Accessible Housing Options Paper

A modern single storey home.Friday 30 November was the cut off date for submissions on the Accessible Housing Options Paper. You can download CUDA’s submission, for reference. For quick reference here is the Executive Summary of CUDA’s response:

“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.” 

Housing quality improves health

A man in a bright yellow T shirt is painting and archway in a wall inside a home. The wall is grey and there are tools on the floor.Ever wondered what the long term effects of a home modification are? A longitudinal study from the UK shows that household improvements in social housing can reduce risk of hospital stays, particularly in older people. While the study picks up major improvements in chest and heart health, it also found that falls and burns were reduced too. Over the ten years of the study, they found that homes that were modified and upgraded correlated with reduced hospital events. That means savings in the health budget or beds freed up for other patients. Obviously it is better for occupants too. It is not clear how poor the condition of the housing was prior to the upgrade or modification relative to Australian housing. This is an academic paper outlining the methods and comparing to other studies, but the discussion and conclusions give you the take-home message – health and  the quality and design of housing quality are related and should be integrated in policy-making and planning. 

One key finding was: “Using up to a decade of household improvements linked to individual level data, we found that social housing quality improvements were associated with substantial reductions in emergency hospital admissions for cardiovascular conditions, respiratory conditions, and fall and burn injuries.”

The title of the study is, “Emergency hospital admissions associated with a non-randomised housing intervention meeting national housing quality standards: a longitudinal data linkage study”. Sarah Rodgers et al. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.