Publicly funded home modifications are a regular feature of My Aged Care and the NDIS schemes. NDIS participants seeking independence and desires to age in place are increasing, but our housing stock is not fit for this purpose. Consequently, homes need adaptation as people age or acquire a disability. However, there is a clash of values between what the client wants, what the funder wants, and what the occupational therapist (OT) deems functional. That’s a finding from researchers at the Hopkins Centre.
Our homes are not designed for disability and ageing. Consequently, modifications are essential for remaining safely and independently at home. They are an essential part of the NDIS and My Aged Care schemes.
The chart shows the key overarching themes from the research
Researchers interviewed OTs experienced in prescribing home modifications. They wanted to gauge their experiences in the assessment process. They found that clients (homeowners) value aesthetics and property values. On the other hand, funding bodies value the cheapest option, and OTs are looking for the most functional outcome. OTs are also confronted with different decision making criteria across the various schemes.
Consequently, it is up to the OT to balance the desires of the client with those of the funder using their professional knowledge. Not an easy task, and unlikely to lead to optimum outcomes. And OTs become de facto bureaucrats in this process, which can also be a challenge to their professional values.
But what is “value”?
The research paper discusses the various aspects of value from different perspectives. The best outcomes are achieved when there is open discussion between the client, the funder and the OT. This encourages a better alignment of values.
While this paper is focused on the OT professional, it links closely with the notion of disability and ageing stigma. The idea of having a grab bar or a ramp appears to be an affront to one’s dignity. Older people see this as the beginning of the “downhill run” of life. The new Livable Housing Design Standardwill help minimise this stigma by providing a step free entry and better bathroom design. Until we have sufficient stock, OTs will continue to provide home modification assessments.
There is also a webinar on the Hopkins Centre website that discusses client perspectives of home modifications. In a nutshell, they see modifications as value for money if they meet their specific needs to a high standard. Also, the process of getting a modification has to be straightforward without wasting time and money.
For those who can afford to renovate their home now, it is worth considering future-proofing, rather than leaving it “until the time comes”. The Livable Housing Design Guidelines are a good reference for anyone updating their home at any point in their life. This Guideline is the basis of the mandated Livable Housing Design Standard, but has more useful information for homeowners.
Basic access features are now mandated in the latest edition of the Australian National Construction Code. This achievement took 20 years of dedicated advocacy for universal design in housing. This was achieved against the backdrop of strong housing industry lobbying for the status quo.
A paper presentedat the International Universal Design Conference, UD2022, documents the achievements brought about by people power. It follows three previous papers and could, and should, be the last chapter. But that depends on ongoing political decisions.
While the features are mandatory, not all states are ready to adopt these changes. Also, the features are very basic and will not meet the needs of an ageing population. Hence, advocates continue their work.
At the end of my presentation at UD2022 in Italy, I had two questions that indicated disbelief that this could be for ALL housing – many thought it was just for social or special housing.
Or you can have alook at the slides in the short PPT presentation to get a quick overview.
Abstract: This paper follows three previous ones which have reflected on the grassroots campaign in Australia to mandate a basic access standard in all new housing. The original negotiations with government and the housing industry for this reform were at first disingenuous then reluctant despite human rights obligations.
A tenacious campaign over two decades by user stakeholders, researchers, and principled housing providers finally convinced political leaders to mandate national access provisions for all new housing in the National Construction Code. The paper discusses what assisted and hampered this campaign. It then discusses why politicians eventually favoured the interests of ordinary people over the self-interests of the housing industry.
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.
After twenty years of citizen advocacy for access features in new housing, the Australian Building Codes Board commissioned a cost benefit analysis which informed the Building Ministers’ decision to say yes, let’s do it. 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 Guardian also has a good article with a similar message.
But Gold is more cost effective
The Melbourne Disability Institute and Summer Foundation submitted a response to the Consultation RIS for accessible housing with the recommendation that, based on the independent assessments and research they commissioned, Governments adopt Option 2, that is to regulate to Livable Housing Gold Level in the National Construction Code, as the benefits clearly outweigh the costs.
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”. It was prepared by Professors Andrew Dalton and Rob Carter.
The independent assessments and research are:
REVIEW OF THE ECONOMIC REPORT The review identified four key issues that individually have a large impact on the benefit-cost ratios reported. Taken together, they totally reverse the economic credentials of the regulation.
SURVEY OF PEOPLE WITH DISABILITY This extra data aligns with the advice from the Office of Best Practice Regulation to include qualitative analysis in all Regulatory Impact Statements, particularly when important elements cannot be quantified or monetised.
AUDIT OF ACCESSIBLE FEATURES This study found that many accessibility features are already incorporated into the most popular house designs being built in Australia, but not in a systematic way. It also demonstrates that accessible features are basic elements of good house design for the general population, and indicates that the likely cost of including further accessible features to be fully consistent with the accessibility standards in new builds is very low.
SUPPLEMENTARY REPORT MDI and the Summer Foundation prepared further information for the ABCB on 6 October 2020 to substantiate their position that that governments should adopt Option 2, which would set minimum mandatory standards for accessible housing at the Gold (LHDG) standard.
Home Truths: Dispelling Myths
Across the globe, advocates for universal design in housing find themselves faced with the same myths. And these myths prevail in spite of hard evidence. AgeUK and Habinteg have put together a fact sheet, Home Truths – rebutting the 10 myths about building accessible housing. They challenge the ideas that it is too costly, difficult or undesirable. And also why the solution is not in building more age-segregated developments.
Note: In the UK, Part M4 (1) of the building code mandates some basic access features. There are two other sections; one is to include adaptability, and the other is to be wheelchair accessible. However, these are optional unless it is set down in the local government plan because there is a community need. Developers challenge these plans asserting that the local authority has failed to prove the need. This indicates that industry will continue to fight for what suits them rather than occupants of the home.
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. The Victorian Government is doing the same.
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.
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.
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 2021 it was decided to adopt features similar to “silver level” 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. South Australia and Western Australia say they need a bit more time. That leaves NSW. The features will be in the 2022 edition of the NCC ready for implementation in 2023. However, it is up to each state to enforce it.
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”.
Livable Housing Design: a DCP approach
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.
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 for download in Word, or download as a PDF.There is also a spreadsheet of all the councils showing those with and without DCPs requiring dwellings to LHDG.
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.
Everyone’s a winner in the upcoming amendments to the National Construction Code (NCC). These changes represent meaningful social change for Australia. They herald a new era in home design which is good for business as well as occupants. At last there is recognition that building design has a significant impact on the way we live our lives. So why has it taken so long for these amendments to happen?
Housing sits in a complex web of regulations, financing, planning and market forces. The housing production system involves many stakeholders, all independent actors, but dependent on each other to maintain a level playing field. To complicate matters further, politicians decide amendments to the NCC. Consequently, the political dimension cannot be ignored. This is discussed further in the Sourceable article, A New Era in Home Design.
But these changes will be good for business. With basic access features in place, modifications and renovations will become easier. Homeowners will be more willing to have modifications because it will minimise major works. Previous concerns over the value of their home will be reduced too. Smaller builders should get ready for this market.
However, the amendments to the NCC are not yet mandated. That should happen in September 2022, and there is some concern that industry will argue that this is too soon.
There’s more work to do
In April 2021 state and territory Building Ministers agreed to include basic access features in new homes. But the Devil is in the detail. Before the changes to the NCC are mandated, a draft standard based on technical detail must be agreed. Consultation on the draft standard is currently open for comment. Anyone can comment on the draft standard. The consultation period is open until 8 July 2021.
To make it easier, ANUHD has shared a rough draft to help others with their comments and submissions.
The ATSA Independent Living Expo was held alongside the UD2021 Conference in Melbourne. I used this opportunity to discuss the upcoming construction code changes and home modifications.My presentation explained the history behind the changes and what it means for the future.
State and territory Building Ministers agreed in April 2021 to amend the National Construction Codeto include basic access features in new homes. This is meaningful social change for Australia, and time to re-think regular practice.
The supply of home care packages will increase and established homes will need modifications. Currently the government subsidises home modifications for this group, but modifications are not the same as renovations.
Modifications vs Renovations
Occupational therapists assess clients and decide on functional modifications as part of a home care package. They are often done in haste and have little aesthetic value due to funding constraints. Clients often refuse these modifications because of poor aesthetics and concern about devaluing their home. On the other hand, renovations usually have a designer involved. Recent research by Monash University commissioned by the Human Rights Commission, indicates that design-led modifications will gradually increase.
With basic access features already in place, modifications and renovations will become easier. Homeowners will be more willing to have modifications because it will minimise major works, and concern over the value of the home will be reduced. The NCC changes provide an opportunity for smaller builders to capitalise on this market. The Building Designers Association Australia is already on board, and has training courses to bring designers up to speed.
The picture above shows a very poorly sited home where the distance from the front porch to the property boundary was not quite sufficient to put 12 or more steps.
Universal design and existing homes
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.