UD in housing: Beyond wheelchairs

Graphic with orange and red buildings depicting several sizes of home from small house to apartment block.“Accessible” housing is more than wheelchairs and mobility for occupants and visitors. However, this is the perspective that the Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) has taken to its consultation paper on the proposal to include accessibility features for housing in the building code. This approach does not consider the broader picture for individuals, families and the community. This matters because it has to do with costs, who pays them and how they are measured. 

A cost benefit analysis is an economic exercise. It does not measure outcomes. And because outcomes are a bit harder to measure, they often get left out. However, the change to the building code for public adult change toilets did measure more than the cost of the building. So it can be done.

The Consultation Regulation Impact Statement (RIS) recommends no changes to the building code based on costs outweighing benefits. The calculations were based on the Silver and Gold levels of the Livable Housing Design Guidelines that were established in 2010. These voluntary Guidelines were devised by the housing industry and drafted to minimise any extra cost. 

This RIS is a very complicated set of documents. There is a five page overview of the project and how the RIS works. You can provide feedback by answering questions online.  Do not be put off by questions you can’t answer. Just answer the ones you can. You can also submit a document by email to Kieran O’Donnell.

The RIS provides options other than Silver or Gold level of the Livable Housing Design Guidelines. CUDA and the Australian Network for Universal Housing Design recommend Option 2, Gold level, as being the most workable minimum with the greatest benefit for the cost. What is really clear is that voluntary guidelines have failed to make the change happen. That’s why we have the push to make them mandatory.

The Consultation Hub has all the documents related to the project at the bottom of the page. Documents are provided in PDF and Word. They include the cost benefit analysis, and a preliminary draft for the building code should changes be approved. 

Note that in the preliminary draft for the building code they have reduced the doorway widths and step free doorways. They have deviated from the Livable Housing Design Guidelines. Of course if you can’t get in or out then any other features are a waste of time. 

You can read CUDA’s response to the Accessible Housing Options Paper for background and context. CUDA’s response to the RIS will be posted on this website before the closing date of 31 August.

CUDA also made a submission to the NSW Housing Strategy Discussion paper in July 2020.

There is a list of housing resources in a previous post. Or use the search facility on this website.


Reasons for UD in housing

Graphic with orange and red buildings depicting several sizes of home from small house to apartment block.The idea of universal design in housing is not new. In spite of academic research proving the need for it, and practice guidelines based on real lives, we are still a long way from achieving access for everyone at home. With the Accessible Housing Consultation Regulation Impact Statement (RIS) out for comment, I thought it useful to pull together a few resources on housing. 

The Home is for Every Body takes a planning perspective.

Longevity, housing, carrots and sticks is a Japanese perspective on the political complexities.

Flexible housing offsets risk discusses the need for innovation in home design.

Designs for Quality of Life explains the value of home modifications 

No Place Like an Accessible Home  has qualitative and quantitative research by London School of Economics.

Is there a market for accessible homes? is another UK study based around wheelchair users.

The value of home modifications is a report by AHURI

WHO Housing, Health & Accessibility is a comprehensive guide with a chapter on accessible homes.

Lifetime Homes: A critical review looks at what works and what isn’t working

You can access the full list in the Housing Research section of this website. And there is the housing policy short e-learning course to get you across the issues in quick time. 

There is more on the RIS in a related post, UD in housing: Beyond wheelchairs. The consultation process is not inclusive or accessible unless you are an industry stakeholder. But you can send your story to Kieran O’Donnell at the Australian Building Codes Board by email


Home design and independent living

An older woman sits in an armchair. She is wearing a purple knitted jacket and is smiling into the camera.Our homes have to work for us – all of us. COVID has highlighted how important this is. But do our current home designs support all home-based activities for the whole household? Probably not.

The Conversation has a timely article on how home design liberates people with disability or long term health condition and improves their quality of life. It is written in the context of the Australian Government’s housing stimulus package. The title of the article is, Renovations as stimulus? Home modifications can do so much more to transform people’s lives. The bottom line is that designs that increase independence, significantly decrease care hours and improve quality of life. 

The Australian Network for Universal Housing Design has campaigned for universal design features in all new homes. Their 20 years of advocacy has resulted in the Consultation Regulation Impact Statement (RIS) for accessible housing. The RIS was devised by a firm of economists for the Australian Building Codes Board. Using standard economic modelling, it was their job to weigh the costs and benefits of including basic universal design features in all new housing. They found that costs outweigh benefits to the community. However, the community currently bears the cost of not having universal design features in our homes.

Early entry to aged care, carers not being able to do paid work, increased falls, longer times in hospital, and the list goes on. So perhaps we should be comparing one cost with another. To say not having a cost is a benefit hides the current and ongoing and cumulative costs to individuals, families and the community. The “benefit” is not a bonus, not the “cherry on the cake”. It just reduces the current cost. And the features are good for everyone – it’s not special.

As a consultation document the RIS calls for submissions to either confirm their assessments or to provide additional information for their calculations. Submissions are open until 31 August 2020.

This is a moment in time where we have a chance to update home design for how we live today and tomorrow. If you have a story about home design, send it to ANUHD or respond directly to the Consultation RIS. Submissions can be your own story in your own words.

A home has to support people studying, working, doing a hobby, exercise or just needing a quiet space. And let’s not forget our personal care, household chores and maintenance. It also has to suit people caring for others – family members or paid staff. 


Accessible Housing: Costs outweigh benefits

Graphic with orange and red buildings depicting several sizes of home from small house to apartment block.The Australian Building Codes Board has released the long-awaited Consultation Regulation Impact Statement (RIS) on accessible housing. Bottom line of this complex document? The costs outweigh the benefits. But how did they measure both the costs and the benefits?

The RIS follows the consultations and submissions related to their Options Paper. A RIS is about weighing up implementation costs with community benefits. In this case, the RIS is about the cost and benefits of the Silver and Gold levels in the Livable Housing Design Guidelines. This is only for new dwellings.

An article in Sourceable has picked out the most relevant information from the RIS executive summary for an easier read. It is worth reading this before going to the Australian Building Codes Board website for the full documentation. The Board’s website also has an explainer and project overview

Have your say. Personal stories and case studies are highly relevant to this consultation. What does it cost not to have accessible features, and what it has cost to have the family home modified? And it is not just dollars – it’s also about quality of life, and ability to do ordinary things. Don’t have a story? There is an online survey you can do which poses questions about the RIS to see if you agree. Submissions are open until 31 August. 

Case studies that show the actual costs in practice are also very useful, particularly if they are less than those shown in the RIS. They calculated Gold level features to cost more than $21,000 per dwelling, and $3,400 for Silver. 

The Australian Network on Universal Housing Design (ANUHD) also has a webpage with relevant information. This RIS is preliminary information. So there is time to submit useful information to help decision-makers. CUDA and ANUHD will be drafting responses for sharing, so watch this space.

For an overview of what housing policy and including universal design features have a look at the easy and quick to do online course Home Coming? It’s free and has a lot of good information and statistics to help your submission. 


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

Housing for Indigenous people

A small house with a large veranda sits on orange soil in a remote location.All new housing should be designed for accessibility to the silver level of the Livable Housing Design Guidelines. This is one of the recommended policy actions from AHURI research on indigenous housing. A systematic inspection process for new builds to ensure compliance with the guidelines is also needed. They also recommend a new classification in the building code for “housing for Indigenous people”. Researchers found housing conditions were poor, inaccessible and that few people were aware of modifications for making life easier. 

Indigenous Australians have a high rate of disability and chronic illness but there is little housing available to support them. Disability is under-reported in this population, particularly in remote areas. This is because the concept of disability varies between urban and rural locations. In urban areas where people know about the NDIS their understanding of disability is similar to the non-indigenous population. Remote communities relate disability as wheelchairs.

The title of the project is, The lived experiences of housing among Indigenous people with disability.  The AHURI website has the full report, a positioning paper and a policy bulletin.

Editor’s note: Regardless of cultural heritage, all Australians need to have housing fit for purpose and it will be interesting to see what the Australian Building Codes Board’s Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS) on accessible housing will recommend in June 2020.

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. 

Accessible Housing RIS Update

A graphic showing facades of different styles of free standing homes in lots of colours. They look like toy houses.The release of the Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS) was scheduled for 3 April. However, at the last minute, the Australian Building Codes Board decided to delay the release. According to an update from ANUHD, this is partly due to comments received from the Disability Discrimination Commissioner.

While we wait, it would be useful to gather some case studies. CUDA is looking for any story about costs, financial and otherwise, of modifying a home. If you have one please send the information in an email to Jane Bringolf. Remember, Livable Housing Australia wants to maintain a voluntary approach, not a regulatory one.

Alternatively, you might like to think about the value of some of these scenarios if you were building a brand new home. Would you be willing to pay an extra $50, $500 or $5000? You can comment in the reply box below:

      • How much would you pay NOT to go to aged care any sooner than you have to?
      • How much would you pay to keep your mother comfortable and safe in her home rather than have her go to aged care sooner rather than later?
      • How much would it be worth to go home from hospital earlier because you can be cared for at home?
      • You are in your hospital bed and told you can’t go home because your home doesn’t allow you to get in the door or to receive home care – how much would you pay to go home? 

Scroll down to leave your comments in the Leave a Reply box.

Here is the information ANUHD (Australian Network for Universal Housing Design) received from the Australian Building Codes Board: 

“As of yesterday [31 March 2020], a subcommittee of the Board agreed to delay the release of the Consultation RIS to enable time for further refinements to be carried out to the document, partly in response to comments received from the Disability Discrimination Commissioner.

“Please note that it was only agreed to delay the release of the Consultation RIS. The release will still proceed once the sub-committee is satisfied with the document. It is hoped that the delay will only be for a matter of weeks.”

The purpose of the RIS is to weigh the costs and benefits of applying the Silver and Gold levels of the Livable Housing Design Guidelines. This is measured against the cost of doing nothing different at all. This is against the backdrop of population ageing and demands from the disability sector for a better deal. Keep in mind that one third of Australian households include a person with disability – not a small number. And it’s households we should be measuring, not individuals with disability or who are ageing. 

For more information on the RIS see previous post. Feel free to share this post through your networks.

Homes need to be fit for purpose

Open doors showing level entry from the kitchen to the al fresco.A promotional video asks the question “Why wouldn’t you?”. It is aimed at the buyers of brand new homes. It extols the virtues of universal design. However, I would ask the designers and builders the same question: Why wouldn’t you just include it? It doesn’t look any different from anything else you would build. Not unless you actually notice the convenient step-free threshold and the open plan living. Housing is the probably the only product that deliberately excludes a significant proportion of the population. Yes. Significant. More than one third of households have a person with disability living in it. And I haven’t added the extra 22% of the population with chronic health conditions. The ABS counts this group separately from people with disability. 

Research by Phillippa Carnemolla shows that family care hours dropped by 47% after a home was modified to be more accessible. That’s because the individual could do much more for themselves. Difficult to argue the economics on that one. 

I wrote an article on this for arguing the case for universal design in housing using the video as the basis for the discussion.  

Jane Bringolf, Editor

Brisbane encourages SDA housing

Blue and yellow logo of Brisbane City Council.Developers who deliver homes to Livable Housing Guidelines will receive a 33% reduction in infrastructure charges. The Brisbane City Council incentive scheme is not aimed at the mainstream market. It adds to the funding for Specialist Disabilty Housing (SDA) that is already on offer from the Commonwealth Government. 

The City Council has a fact sheet explaining the conditions of the incentive which is for Gold and Platinum level of the Livable Housing Guidelines.

Editor’s comment: While this is good for those interested in the SDA sector, it further entrenches the notion that universal design is only about people with disability. The benefits for including UD features in all housing are once again marginalised. With the upcoming Regulation Impact Statement due early next year, such schemes will only confuse the industry. The Disability Royal Commission has no doubt been a driver of the scheme because specialist housing is urgently needed.