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 guidelinesargue 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.
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 articleon this for arguing the case for universal design in housing using the video as the basis for the discussion.
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 Statementdue 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.
The tool has four steps: individual wants and issues; opportunities for improvement in the home and lifestyle: different options for maximising the use and value of the home; and other choices such as moving, sharing, home modifications and home support. This well researched tool is easily adapted from this New Zealand model.
Another research group has developed a prototype web application to use at home when needed, over time and at the user’s own pace. It consists of three modules Think, Learn and Act to facilitate awareness, offer information and knowledge and enable the user to decide and act on issues relating to housing. Topics are: preferences, the home, the neighbourhood, health status, social network and support, financial situation, the future, options for help and support and housing options.
A poor fit between the home and what older people need can lead to unnecessary care needs, loneliness, worse quality of life, increased caregiver time and early institutionalisation.
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. It will be interesting to see how the proposal to include accessible features in the Australian building code progresses through the Regulatory Impact Statement.
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 NSW Apartment Design Guide includes a small section on universal design. It defines universal design as, “… an international design philosophy that enables people to continue living in the same home by ensuring that apartments are able to change with the needs of the occupants. Universally designed apartments are safer and easier to enter, move around and live in. They benefit all members of the community, from young families to older people, their visitors, as well as those with permanent or temporary disabilities” (P 118).
In the design guidance section, it refers to the Livable Housing Design Guidelines (Silver Level, equivalent to visitability), but continues the reference to a proportional number (20%), which means universal design is not universally applied. Consequently this becomes specialised housing rather than mainstream housing. The old Adaptable Housing Standard (AS4299) continues to be referenced. The new apartment guide replaces the NSW Residential Flat Design Code.
The Design Standards establish the standards that all new housing and major refurbishments of existing NSW Land and Housing Corporation housing stock must meet. The document may be taken as performance and functional guidance rather than prescriptive requirements for:
Projects undertaken by the affordable housing or community housing sector which are mainly privately funded, or
Aboriginal Housing Office projects.
The Design Standards include five non-negotiable Design Principles and the Design Features emphasise:
Edited transcript from live captioning of the presentation by Shawn Neilson and Joel Elbourne who outline the process of engaging with developers to encourage the uptake of Banyule City Council’s Liveable Housing Design Guidelines in new housing developments. They show how it is possible to get buy-in from developers using local government resources. The title of their presentation is, Improving housing for people across their lifespan. Banyule City Council also has a Liveable Housing Policy. However, the policy indicates the notion of a proportion of new dwellings, which means the policy applies only to multi dwelling developments.