A study on planning to move in later life is based on the notion that people will need to move regardless. If this is the case, the question becomes, who does the planning? The researchers are taking medical approach in two ways. First, by suggesting older people should be encouraged to plan their move. Second healthcare professionals can “help them better adjust to a new living environment”.
Does educating homeowners about universal design influence any repairs following a home insurance claim? Researchers found that almost all homeowners included universal design features in repairs. This lead to a voluntary 6- week online training program to educate contractors who work with customers to discuss and promote universal design with policy holders at the time of a claim.
How many local governments in New South Wales have Livable Housing Design Guidelines in their Development Control Plans (DCP)? And what mechanisms do developers use to find this information? With different terms being used for the same thing, how do developers navigate this environment? This is what Masters student Matthew Gee Kwun Chan wanted to find out.
Banks, property developers, planners, building designers, engineers, certifiers, and consumers all have a vested interest in housing. But do they all want a simpler system?
Chan’s literature review is broad ranging covering the complexities of housing regulation both voluntary and mandated. That’s before acknowledging the many stakeholders in the housing supply system.
The recent change to the National Construction Code (NCC) to mandate LHDG “silver” level is discussed in the context of the refusal by New South Wales to adopt this change.
NSW Government claims increased cost as the reason for not adopting the changes. This claim is challenged by economists, activists and consumers. NSW Government responses indicate that they still view the LHDG as “disability housing” not a mainstream issue. Consequently they claim there are sufficient properties available in the market and in social housing to meet current and future demand.
Local government and DCPs
Councils create DCPs to provide detailed information for implementing Environmental Planning Instruments (EPI). Some councils can seek higher accessibility standards beyond the statutory minimum. However, Chan found that councils “fail to adopt LHDG in their DCPs despite making the argument for such in other council documents”. He provides an analysis of 24 selected councils to compare their development and planning documents.
Chan claims that conflicting terminology is not the issue here. Rather, it is the amount of information, or lack thereof, about LHDG in the DCPs and where to find out more. So, the barriers to implementation are not helped when professionals lack understanding of the requirements. This is exacerbated by minor conflicts between DCPs, LHDG and Australian Standards. The regular reference to the Adaptable Housing Standard of 1995 is also unhelpful.
Document analysis reveals that each Council has its own interpretation of the LHDG and how it relates to other instruments. In some cases the references are outdated. Reference to the public domain access standard (AS1428) further complicates matters.
Out of the 24 LGAs with DCPs enacting LHDG, 2 present the silver level without the hobless shower, and 2 without a stairway handrail.
Chan found that on one hand councils wanted more accessible inclusive environments, including housing, but they also wanted group homes, seniors housing and boarding houses. Some councils only encourage dwellings to LHDG while others require additional features as in the Gold and Platinum levels.
Four Sydney suburban development sites were studied: Berowra Heights, Darlinghurst, Miranda and Roseville. The analysis is necessarily technical and detailed and shows how many regulatory instruments planners and designer need to heed. The need to have an accredited assessor for some dwellings adds another step in the approval process. There is an argument here for rationalising these instruments, particularly those relating to the design of dwellings.
In the final part of the thesis, Chan challenges the NSW Government’s refusal to adopt the design features in the 2022 NCC. His rationale is that individual councils are trying to solve the problems themselves and refusal to adopt the NCC changes works against them. This is what has brought about differing provisions using different instruments across the system. And it won’t get better without adopting the silver level in the NCC.
The complexity of applying LHDG in DCPs could be solved by adopting the changes to the NCC. This would clear up most of the complexities, create a level playing field and give certainty to developers.
Conclusions and recommendations
The thesis concludes with many recommendations. Some are related to revision of standards and related instruments. One of the recommendations for councils is to include the LHDG in their DCPs for all housing. The recommendations for the NSW Government appear to be “workarounds” on the basis of not adopting the NCC changes.
The title of the thesis is, To promote or to limit Livable Housing Design Guidelines within Development Control Plans is the question for governments and built environmental professionals. It is available fordownload in Word, or download as a PDF.
Editor’s comment: Note that the LHA website is administered by Master Builders Australia. Training for Livable Housing Assessors is provided by Access Institute Australia. The LHA board consists of housing industry representatives who are not made public on the LHA website, but are listed with ASIC.
The 2022 edition of the National Construction Code (NCC) will include updated standards for all new housing. This standard is similar to the Livable Housing Silver Level that many local governments require for a percentage of apartments. Although the standard will be in the 2022 NCC, states and territories are responsible for ensuring implementation. This means it is not a done deal for all Australians – yet. There are still wrinkles to iron out.
Small apartments are easier to make accessible because there are no corridors and hallways.
The preview of the 2022 edition of the NCC had an exemption for dwellings less than 55 square metres. It was originally thought that it would be difficult to apply the new housing standard to small dwellings such as studios. Once it was realised it was easier because there are no corridors or hallways, these dwellings are now included in the NCC.
Smaller dwellings are often required by people on low incomes who also have a disability or long term health condition. So it was really important to include small apartments in the standard. Of course there will still be some exemptions such as really steep sites. However, these are rarely the sites chosen by mass market developers and builders. Individual bespoke homes on cliff faces are not the target of the new standard.
New advisory committee
A new advisory committee to support implementation of the new standard will be set up by the Australian Building Codes Board. The committee will bring together representatives of user groups, advocates, design professionals, regulators and the construction industry. They will work through any emerging technical issues and help shape the information to help industry apply the standard. Their first meeting will be in September.
Bringing a small group together, representing all the most interested groups, will help us develop workable consensus positions on any questions that arise.
Gary Rake, CEO Australian Building Codes Board.
For more, see the media release, Livable Housing Provisions in the National Construction Code 2022. This is a big reform. It offers a new level of inclusion in housing and will make Australian homes more suitable for all stages of life. However, there will still be a need for specialist housing for people with high level needs.
The long road to Livable Housing
And the journey isn’t over yet. While the Livable Housing Standard is now in the NCC, it is up to each state and territory to implement it. Victoria, Queensland, Tasmania, ACT and Northern Territory have agreed to implementation. But we don’t know when it will happen. Industry is asking for another three years.
Australian Network for Universal Housing Design (ANUHD) has been leading the charge for the reforms for twenty years. They believe that Western Australia and South Australia could also sign up to implement the standard. However, NSW has flatly refused to entertain the idea.
Given that the industry likes to have consistency across the board, this could pose additional difficulties. For more on the history of Australia’s quest for accessible housing see these posts:
After twenty years of citizen advocacy for access features in new housing, the Australian Building Codes Board took action two years ago. They commissioned a cost benefit analysis which informed the Building Ministers’ decision to say yes, let’s do it. However, the housing industry still refuses to agree with the Building Ministers and continues to lobby for no changes. They’ve had a partial effect with their mantra “it will cost too much”. But is cost the real issue? And are those costs real?
An article in The Fifth Estate discusses the way various facts and figures go unquestioned. Figures plucked from the air appear to carry more weight in NSW, SA and WA than actual evidence presented to the Building Ministers Meeting. Victoria, Queensland, Tasmania, ACT, and NT are ready to roll with the new features. That will leave mass market developers with different rules in different states.
The Australian Network for Universal Housing Design (ANUHD), which has led the advocacy work, has a one page simple version of why cost is not the real issue. We also know that there will be no new products needed and no new techniques needed. Some builders and trades are using the techniques in retirement villages and in adaptable apartments. So what is the real issue?
The Guardian also has a good article with a similar message.
The Queensland Government is wasting no time in adopting access features for all new homes. The Government is preparing industry for the changes to the National Construction Code agreed by state building ministers in April. The Victorian Government is doing the same. Only New South Wales, Western Australia, and South Australia are bucking the trend.
New South Wales believes it is already doing a good job. So they are refusing to adopt the changesto the building code. However they are only able to claim 125 dwellings to Silver level in the last year. Social housing is only 5% of the total housing market, so that is a drop in the bucket. Old stock is still inaccessible. The claims were reiterated by Minister Anderson in a NSW Senate estimates committee meeting (page 20 of Hansard).
The Queensland Government is keen to support industry and local governmentto transition to the new requirements. “This will make a real difference to the large number of people who struggle to find accessible housing”.
The Victorian Government’s media release encourages all jurisdictions to adopt the changes. If all states and territories adopt the standard we should have 50% of housing stock with access features. The Minister for Planning said that it is time a regulatory standard for all housing in Australia. That’s because the voluntary solution hasn’t worked.
The Master Builders Association in Victoria is still complaining about the changes. They have been the major barrier to implementation in the last eleven years. Their claim that a voluntary standard is best has not resulted in any mainstream accessible homes.
There are more posts on the 20 years of campaigning by advocates in the Housing Design Policy section of this website.
Why wouldn’t you?
The catch cry “Why wouldn’t you? is the three word tag used in promotional material to promote universal design in housing. A builder, and a building designer are calling their collaboration Project Silver.
The six minute video (below) puts the case very well. It includes contributions from different people, including the mayor of the Sunshine Coast. It’s worth a watch. Another builder in Townsville is telling the same story.
Editor’s comment: The builder claims Silver Level costs an additional $3000 to potentially save $60,000.Possibly it is another way to sell an “extra” and therefore the customer pays over and above the actual cost of the features.
Modifications are different to renovations and they are not usually chosen willingly. Modifications are often work-arounds – a ramp here, a grabrail there and a rubber wedge for good luck. These tacked-on fittings fail to add value to a home and that’s why they are removed after they are needed. So we need universal design in existing homes when thinking about modifications.
DIY (Do It Yourself) is a popular activity for home-owners especially with places like Bunnings that have everything you could possibly need. But what renovations should people think about for their later years? UNSW has devised a free Appto answer that question.
Builders and building supply businesses should also find this app very useful. The App shows how to select products and how to install them in an easy step-by-step way that allows homeowners to choose the cheapest options that suit them best.
The authors claim that even if the costs are large, they are one time costs. Whereas costs for home services will continue. This article by Slaug, Chiatti, Oswald, Kaspar and Schmidt was originally downloaded from ResearchGate.
The personal value of home modifications is measured in quality of life and health outcomes. Research by Phillippa Carnemolla found that home modifications reduced care hours substantially.
Costs? or Savings?
Lesley Curtis and Jennifer Beecham claim that the expertise of occupational therapists can help save money in health budgets as well as improve the lives of people needing assistance at home. Their article is about home modifications and identifying the hidden savings in providing home adaptations. They argue that significant savings can be made if you tally all aspects into the calculations. The article is available from Sage Publications. You will need institutional access for a free read. The title is, “A survey of local authorities and Home Improvement Agencies: Identifying the hidden costs of providing a home adaptations service”. Or try ResearchGate and ask for a copy.
A new OECD working paper says there is a housing crisis on the horizon for people with disability and older people. Most jurisdictions in Australia are signing up to some basic universal design features in all new homes. But will it be enough? In the UK, their home access regulations are being reviewed because they don’t go far enough. So partial access solutions are no solution, but for policy-makers it looks like they are doing something.
The OECD working paper says there is talk about housing for people with disability, but no real action. The shortage of suitable accessible housing is still lacking. And it will get worse. By 2050 more than one quarter of the population will be over 65 years – it’s 18% now. Major modifications will be needed if people are to age in place.
Social housing is a help provided it is accessible, but it is not the best option for everyone or every family. Grants and loans for home modifications can help too. People with complex needs might need specialised accommodation. Briefly, the working paper suggests the following policy actions:
Finding out what people with disability need from their housing and what supports are available. An evidence base is important.
Developing tools to match available stock with people needing it.
Strengthening access standards for new residential construction.
Providing financial incentives such as loans and income-tested grants for upgrading existing stock.
Ensuring people with disability benefit from increased accessible, affordable and social housing.
This paper discusses housing challenges facing people with disabilities in OECD and EU countries, and policy supports to make housing more affordable, accessible and adapted to their needs. It focuses on the adult population with disabilities living outside institutions, drawing on data from the European Union Survey of Income and Living Conditions (EU-SILC), household surveys, national population census and disability surveys, and country responses to the 2021 OECD Questionnaire on Affordable and Social Housing. The paper summarises housing outcomes; discusses policy supports to ensure that people with disabilities can be safely, affordably and independently housed; and outlines actions for policy makers.
A good reference document for people working in the housing policyspace.
The building ministers from each state and territory are a group of politicians who decide what goes into the National Construction Code. Their decisions are by majority rule. In April this year it was decided to adopt Silver level features in all new housing. However, there was one major dissenter – New South Wales said ‘no’. The Silver level refers to that in the Livable Housing Design Guidelines.
Victoria, Tasmania, Queensland, ACT and Northern Territory will be adopting the features in their jurisdiction. Western Australia says it needs a bit more time. That leaves South Australia and NSW. The features will be in the new edition of the NCC due out September 2022. However, it is up to each state to enforce it.
After many letters of appeal to the NSW building minister, Kevin Anderson, advocates received a definitive no – NSW will not be adopting the features. It is not known whether this was a NSW Cabinet decision or just his own. Regardless, this decision is perplexing.
Why is NSW saying ‘no’?
One thing the construction industry wants and needs is consistency across jurisdictions. The NSW decision goes against this. Many of the larger developers are already incorporatingsome of the silver features, and even some gold, in their newer designs. The decision by NSW does not support this. The NSW Housing Strategy 2041 specifically supports universal design in housing. The NSW decision contradicts this. It makes no sense. So what is, or who is, the stumbling block?
In the response to advocates, Kevin Anderson’s office advised, in a nutshell, that they are already doing enough. However, when questioned for evidenceof this, it was not forthcoming. Without such evidence NSW cannot claim they are “already doing it”.
ANUHD did some research on the NSW development and planning policies. It’s an attachment to the letters referenced previously. They found that even if developers followed through with 20% of silver level in apartments, that is still a very small number in the overall scheme of things. It would be less than 10% of total new apartments. Regardless, there is no-one checking to see if the apartments actually got built to Silver level.
The other issue is that NSW still thinks that disability and ageing is a niche issue – a niche market. The statistics and evidence to the contrary is being ignored. Also ignored is that universal design and accessibility is for everyone – we will all need it sometime in our lives. And our family members too. Most people want to age at home and this is how to do it – in a home fit for purpose.
The Building Better Homes Campaign continues and they are encouraging everyone to write to their local member to lobby Kevin Anderson and other ministers with responsibility for planning and housing. We all need accessible housing.
We ain’t getting any younger
Why are we still building homes as if we never going to grow old? This question and others are the subject of a Building Connection magazine article about the purpose of Livable Housing Australia and their design guidelines. These guidelines, devised by industry and other stakeholders, clearly state that universal design features are easily included in regular housing and don’t need to be considered “special” just because they suit people who are older or have a disability. That’s because the features are convenient and easy to use for everyone. But why hasn’t the idea caught on in mainstream housing?
More than half Australian households would benefit from these features. That’s because If you add together the number of older people, people with disability and those with a chronic health conditions, it comes to more than 60%. The title of the magazine article on page 42 is, We ain’t getting any younger.
Housing policy people think you can’t have universal design and affordability in housing. However, the opposite is likely to be true. The national Building Ministers’ Meeting in April this year agreed to include Livable Housing Silver level in all new housing. But not all states agreed to call it up in their jurisdiction.
Victoria, Queensland, ACT, Tasmania and NT are right behind the changes to the National Construction Code, but NSW is not. Indeed, they informed advocates by letter that they have no intention of including silver level in NSW legislation. Their reasoning is that they believe they are doing enough already. By this, they mention some policies asking for a proportion of accessible dwellings in apartments. However, there is no evidence they are actually built, and if they were, there is no way of knowing where they are.
The other reason for not changing the NSW code is that the politicians believe it costs too much. Accessible housing continues to be perceived as a niche area. A few good points were made by Kay Saville-Smithat a roundtable after the 2014 Australian universal design conference. Sadly, we are still no further forward and her words hold true today.
Universal design is affordable design
Here are Kay Saville-Smith’s five key points about universal design in housing and affordability:
“The usual argument is that universal design is consistently unaffordable (by which they mean more costly) than poor design because of the difficulties of retrofitting the existing environment and lack of economies of scale. But the reasons why universal design is seen as costly can add cost. Five points are interesting:
Most products are not designed but driven off existing tools, processes and organisational structures. To change these does require some investment (hump costs) but these are one off and should not be seen as an ongoing cost. Indeed, those changes can bring reduced costs in the long term through increased productivity etc.
The costs of poor design are externalised onto households, other sectors or hidden unmet need.
Comes out of an advocacy approach that pitches the needs of one group against another and treats universal design as special design etc.
Win-win solutions need to be built with the industry participants that are hungry for share not dominant players who have incentives to retain the status quo.
Universal design is different from design which is fashion based. The trick is to make universal design fashionable so no one would be seen dead without it.”
Her keynote presentationprovides more information about affordability and why it is so hard to get traction with universal design in housing.
For more history on the Building Ministers’ Meeting and decisions to include Livable Housing Silver level in the NCC, go to the housing design policysection.
The Australian Network for Universal Housing Design (ANUHD) has responded to the draft provisions to the National Construction Code (NCC) on accessible housing. Much of the required information is technical. So ANUHD is happy for others to utilise this information in their own response. All responses must be made by 2 July 2021. The Melbourne Disability Institute has also responded to the final cost benefit analysis by the Australian Building Codes Board.
While the Building Ministers agreed to most aspects of Silver level in the Livable Housing Design Guidelines, the devil is in the detail. Step-free hobless showers, step-free entry to the dwelling, parking spaces and doorways need greater clarity to ensure accessibility is maximised. Simple misunderstandings in drafting the technical changes can minimise the benefits of these changes.
ANUHD still promotes Gold level of the Livable Housing Design Guidelines as the most cost effective. Regardless, their comments serve to make the best of the current agreed changes to the NCC.
Comments are open until 2 July 2021. You can submit a response. See “How to use this response sheet” and proforma. You don’t need to be a building professional to respond. This is also about advocacy for all of us.
The Melbourne Disability Institute critiques the final cost benefit analysis by the Australian Building Codes Board as being incomplete. It goes as far as saying the report “contains and inherent and under-acknowledged bias against building code reform”.