Local Government and SDA

Front cover of Whittlesea housing diversity strategy.Specialist Disability Accommodation (SDA) is not just something the NDIS deals with. When it comes to planning and building, local government has to get involved. SDA will not solve all the housing problems for people with disability within a council area. So, the City of Whittlesea is pro-actively tackling this issue. Their approach is outlined in a paper for the upcoming Universal Design Conference.  

As Linda Martin-Chew points out in her paper, many people with disability are not eligible for SDA housing. So Council needed to understand the risks and benefits for residents with disability and the SDA market. As Whittlesea has a strong focus on access and inclusion they decided to take action. 

Linda’s paper, From niche to mainstream: local government and the specialist disability housing sector outlines how Council tackled the issues. This should make for an interesting and informative presentation at the Conference. 

Why do we need UD features in housing?

House half built showing timber framework. We need UD features in housing.To answer the question: because it will benefit all Australians. UD features are easy to implement, and largely cost neutral, but the housing industry is fighting for the status quo. The two Royal Commissions related to aged care and disability care found that inaccessible housing prevented people from remaining at home and living independently. That’s why we need UD features in housing. However, there are a lot of myths and misconceptions in this space. 

The Building Better Homes campaign calls for mandating universally designed features in all new homes. It’s also about creating resilient, flexible and sustainable housing. These features will increase general amenity and allow people to age in place. For people with a disability, it will allow them to live independently. 

A line of complex manufacturing machinery used to show the complex process and number of stakeholders involved in mass market housing.It has to be regulated across the housing building system so that the process stays efficient. There are too many stakeholders to consider in one-off exceptions. 

Of course, most people resist change. However, resistance is sometimes founded on misinformation and myths that get perpetuated. Opinions and anecdotes get confused with evidence. 

Jane Bringolf addresses some of the common myths and misunderstandings in her article, Why do we need universal design features in all new housing?  Myths and comments include:

      • only a few people need it
      • I’ll worry about it when the time comes
      • it costs too much
      • it will look like a hospital

 

UD in home design: a turning point

A front door with level, no step entry.Australia is at a turning point for introducing universal design (UD) features into all new housing. For almost twenty years advocacy groups have campaigned for homes to be accessible for everyone. That means current and future occupants as well as visitors. And you can add furniture deliveries and paramedics. Human rights, good economic sense and principles of inclusion are all wrapped up in well reasoned arguments. However, we are at a turning point now.

An article in Designs 4 Living magazine gives a quick overview of why we are at a turning point. After years of campaigning the issue is finally on the political agenda. The housing industry is campaigning for the status quo to remain. So, in spite of hard economic evidence to support basic universal design features, it will be a political decision.  

The article by Jane Bringolf is titled, UD in home design: A turning point for Australia. It’s on page 11 of the online publication.

There’s more background in a conference paper that unravels the complexities of the house building system in Australia and why regulation is the only option. The title is Barriers to Universal Design and What to do About Them. Also by Jane Bringolf.

CUDA made a submission supporting the inclusion of universal design features in all new housing.

Universal Design in Housing: A 20 year campaign

A graphic in shades of green showing various types of dwellings. Universal design in housing - a 20 year campaign.Advocates for universal design features in all new homes are nervous. State and territory building ministers will be making a decision on whether to make access features mandatory. Industry is advocating for no change to the building code. Some states claim they are already addressing the problem of accessible housing through piecemeal planning policies. Others think it’s something the NDIS is doing. Regardless, we need all new homes fit for purpose. A 20 year campaign is long enough!

The evidence shows is not difficult to achieve – it’s very doable.  But evidence has largely been ignored about the need, the cost effectiveness, and the technical issues for more than ten years.  Will the evidence count, or will it be a political decision?

Every new home built today has a 60 percent chance of having an occupant with a disability.  Moreover, more than 30% of households currently have a person with disability – and this affects all members of the household. And it’s not just about people who use wheelchairs – it’s a mainstream issue.

You can find several research papers and articles on housing design policy on this website. The history of twenty years of advocacy and links to our international obligations are useful background. Our free online course on housing policy and universal design is also worth a look. 

Universal Design in Housing: Australia’s obligations

A graphic of four housing types: small house, town house, apartment block and multi-unit dwelling.Signing up to a United Nations (UN) convention isn’t just a feel-good affair. It actually brings obligations. That means reporting on a regular basis to the relevant UN committee. In Australia, the Commonwealth Attorney General’s Department is responsible for government reports on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. But it isn’t all up to the government: people with disability must be involved. Their reports are known as “Civil Society Shadow Reports”. This is where the story gets interesting when it comes to universal design in housing.

Margaret Ward’s paper, Universal design in housing: Reporting on  Australia’s obligations to the UNCRPD, traces the reporting history specifically relating to housing. She writes that the Commonwealth Government has avoided action by doing nothing. Further, it has not adequately reported on this failure to act. But the story does not end here. 

This peer reviewed paper was written for the UD2020 Conference that was to be held May 2020, which is now to be held May 2021. It is published on the Griffith University publications website where you can find other papers for the conference. 

Abridged abstract:

The UNCRPD obliges Australia to embrace the concept of universal design as a guide for its activities. The UNCRPD triggered significant changes in the last decade directed by the 2010-2020 National Disability Strategy. This paper reviews Australia’s national and international reports on these obligations over the last decade. Both the Australian government and the housing industry largely disregarded the National Dialogue agreement, and misrepresented the progress made in achieving accessibility within the housing stock. The question remains whether a net benefit to society will be found to be of greater priority than the self-interests of the private housing sector and the political vagaries of government. Again, it will take the voice of people with lived experience and those who represent them to make the argument.

The Provision of Visitable Housing in Australia

A graphic showing facades of different styles of free standing homes in lots of colours. They look like toy houses.Margaret Ward and Jill Franz inspected eleven new dwellings in the Brisbane area. They found that none of the dwellings were visitable:

“In summary, when providing the eight features for visitability, the interviewees identified two themes for non-compliance (“lack of thought” and “otherness”) and three themes for compliance (“fashion”, “requirement’ and “good practice”). Although all dwellings provided some features, no dwelling provided a coherent path of travel necessary to make a dwelling visitable. Some examples of this incoherence were: a step-free driveway which led to a step at the door; a wide front door which led to a narrow corridor; and a narrow internal doorway which did not allow entry of a wheel-chair to a spacious bathroom. The provision of these access features separately and severally did not provide visitability as an outcome in any of the dwellings.”

The title of the article is, The Provision of Visitable Housing in Australia: Down to the Detail

Margaret Ward also delivered the Robert Jones Memorial Lecture in 2014 on this topic.

Ageing in Place: A timely book

Front cover of the Ageing in Place Book.Across the globe, older people want to stay put as they age. They do not aspire to residential care and are also moving away from the retirement village model. But are our planners, designers and builders listening? COVID-19 pandemic is also challenging established policy about where older people want to live. “Ageing in Place” is a timely book.

Bruce Judd, a long time Australian researcher in this area, is the editor of a new book, Ageing in Place: Design, Planning and Policy Response in the Western Asia-Pacific. The book looks at ageing in place in built environments in Japan, China, Taiwan, Australia and NZ. 

From the book review:

“Encouraging older people to age in place in their own homes is a common response internationally to the economic and social demands of population ageing. It is recognized that the nature of the built environment at various scales is critical to optimizing the social participation and wellbeing of older people and hence in facilitating ageing in place. This insightful book showcases a range of design, planning and policy responses to ageing populations from across the rapidly changing and dynamic Western Asia-Pacific region.

Ageing in Place considers diverse cultural, political and environmental contexts and responses to show that regional governments, industries and communities can gain, as well as offer, important insights from their international counterparts. With significant changes in caring, family dynamics and the supporting roles of governments in both Eastern and Western societies, the chapters demonstrate a clear and increasingly convergent preference for and promotion of ageing in place and the need for collaborative efforts to facilitate this through policy and practice.

The unique geographical focus and multi-disciplinary perspective of this book will greatly benefit academic researchers and students from a variety of backgrounds including architecture, urban planning, sociology and human geography. It also provides a unique entry point for practitioners seeking to understand the principles of design and practice for ageing in place in homes, neighbourhoods and care facilities.”

A related article on smart home technology for older people links with the concepts in the book. 

The book is edited by Bruce Judd, Emeritus Professor, City Futures Research Centre, University of New South Wales, Australia, Kenichi Tanoue, Professor, Department of Environmental Design, Faculty of Design, Kyushu University, Japan and Edgar Liu, Senior Research Fellow, City Futures Research Centre, University of New South Wales, Australia.

ANUHD update on accessible housing regulation

Timeline for the next steps to the Regulatory Impact Statement. ANUHD update gives links to submission.Australian Network for Universal Housing Design (ANUHD) update has important information about the continuing work for regulating (or not) universal design features in all new housing. This update is about the extra work done after the close of submissions on the Consultation Regulation Impact Statement. The advice to government is to adopt Gold level of the Livable Housing Design Guidelines. Here the ANUHD update on accessible housing regulation:

 

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 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. 
    • Please note: The issues raised in the analysis are highly technical. The researchers provided more concise executive summary to improve accessibility. If you have particular questions, please contact md-i@unimelb.edu.au.
    • 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.

CUDA and ANUHD made comprehensive submissions to the Consultation Regulation Impact Statement. 

Other submissions can be viewed online on the ABCB website. 

Economic value of universal housing design

Front cover of the report showing an older grey-haired couple sitting together smiling. Title is exploring the economic value in housing built to universal design principles.Consumers buy things that they want and need now rather than purchasing things with the future in mind. Well, that makes sense. For everyday items this poses no problems. But for expensive, longer lasting items, such as a home, it can be a problem. Many older Australians live in a home that was purchased in mid life. It was suitable then. But now that cherished home is challenging their independence in older age. That’s why all homes should have universal design features.

A new report based on a survey of care-givers, both paid and unpaid, provides insights into their experiences and observations on the impact of home design on their caring role. The researchers found that housing design features and proximity to amenities had a value that extended beyond those of residents. That is, it facilitates community capacity and social engagement, physical wellbeing and ease of providing care services. 

The executive summary concludes with a statement that supports universal design in housing for people to age well:

“The public value implicit in universally designed housing is conceptually demonstrated by associated increases in ageing well outcomes and reduction in the need for, the level of, and the time spent on, care to support positive ageing outcomes (ie. generating efficiency gains in achieving ageing well outcomes).

The key findings of the study 

    • Universal design features impact on the level of care needed to support ageing well.
    • The location of the home and access to amenities also has an impact on the level of care needed.
    • The time needed to support people with basic living activities is reduced.

The title of the report is, Exploring the economic value embedded in housing built to universal design principles: Bridging the gap between public placemaking and private residential housing.

The study was undertaken by RMIT University and the Longevity Group Australia.

Abstract: In this report, we explore the public value implicit in housing incorporating universal design principles. Value is conceptually demonstrated by identifying housing design and location attributes, associated with increases in ageing well outcomes via the reduction in the need for, the level of, and the time spent on care to support ageing in place. To do this a survey instrument is developed to capture the experiential knowledge of in home care service providers and their observations of the impact of the home on the ageing well outcomes of the seniors they care for and also on their capacity to provide care. We find that certain housing design and location feature have value that extends beyond that experienced solely by its residents, facilitating community capacity and social engagement, physical wellbeing and ease of delivery of public services such as care support.  

Universal Design in Housing: Politics vs Practice

A modern living room showing lots of circulation space between furniture.What is so difficult about including universal design features in all new housing? Is it cost or is it technical difficulty? The answer to both is, no. Perhaps this is more about a regulation ideology. The Housing Industry Association (HIA) has a policy statement that says as much. But do they have a case to continue that position for universal design in housing? 

In 2006 when the HIA policy was written (and ratified again in 2018) we hadn’t signed up to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. We didn’t have a National Disability Strategy or Livable Housing Design Guidelines either. But other businesses are recognising their ethical obligations for equity and inclusion and that inclusion has a strong business case. And here is the difference – the housing industry is a fragmented system that relies on regulation to hold all the parts together to guarantee consistency and certainty. Consequently, nothing will change without regulation.

So, should we have regulation for all new homes to have universal design features? To answer this question the Australian Building Codes Board commissioned a cost benefit analysis. It concluded that costs outweighed benefits. Even if it did cost more, is this a reason to continue building homes as if we are never going to grow old? 

In responding to the cost benefit analysis, two camps emerged. The community and academic sectors say the cost benefit analysis was skewed in favour of costs. Consequently the cost argument doesn’t hold. The housing industry continues to prosecute a cost argument as a basis for the status quo to remain.

April 2021 update: The Building Ministers’ Meeting agreed to mandate Silver level of the Livable Housing Design Guidelines in the National Construction Code. 

Key submissions to the ABCB

You can check out some of the submissions to the Australian Building Codes Board: 

Australian Network for Universal Design supports mandating the Gold level of Livable Housing Design Guidelines, and a subsidy system for rental housing. 

Melbourne Disability Institute and Summer Foundation supports Gold level of Livable Housing Design Guidelines, plus a subsidy for rental housing. This is based on their economic study that points out deficiencies in the ABCB report.

COTA NSW  (Council on the Ageing NSW) strongly supports the adoption of Gold level of Livable Housing Design Guidelines.

Rights&Inclusion Australia supports Gold level and Gold level + because they best meet the RIS objective.

Community Housing Industry Association supports Silver level of the Livable Housing Design Guidelines. They acknowledge Silver is a partial solution, but improvements might be possible over time.

Housing Industry Association supports subsidies and other financial incentives rather than regulation.

Property Council of Australia supports information and education initiatives for consumers. “If the additional costs laid out in this submission were estimated and included, this would reinforce the negative cost/benefit ratio outlined in the RIS.”

CUDA supports Gold level of Livable Housing Design Guidelines and questions whether a cost benefit analysis was the right approach to answer the object of the project, “To ensure that new housing is designed to meet the needs of the community, including older Australians and others with mobility limitations.

Editor’s note: The HIA’s policy statement focuses on wheelchair users and this is common in the industry. They argue, “The overwhelming majority of private homes will not be used, now or in the future, by people requiring wheel chairs [sic]”. This statement also ignores the human right to visit your friends and family. 

Universal design in housing: The time has come

House half built showing timber framework. Universal design in housing. The time has come.Time 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 shape.

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 evidence

Two eminent economists responded to the call to comment on the draft changes and have concluded that benefits outweigh the costs. Dense reading but the document challenges the ABCB analysis 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. 

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.

For the history of nearly 20 years of advocacy see Universal Housing Design in Australia: Getting to Yes.