Government perspective on accessible housing

Brightly coloured graphic of little houses clustered togetherWhat do government representatives think is the best way to supply homes suitable for people with disability? A research study by an occupational therapist and an architect found out. Mandating accessible features in all new mainstream housing is the way to go. That means both owners and renters would benefit. Plus it would suit ageing in place and not be detrimental to the rest of the population. One participant suggested that the Livable Housing Design Guidelines should be turned into an Australian Standard. That would also help guide home renovations. The research also looked at technology and support issues. 

Although this research was specific to Australia’s National Disability Strategy, the findings on housing share similar responses found in other research: there is no real benefit in segregated “disability housing”, but much to be gained from housing that also suits people with disability. The title of the article is, Government perspectives on housing, technology and support design within Australia’s National Disability Strategy. It is also available on ResearchGate or the Wiley online library.  

In the Results section of the article, authors Libby Callaway and Kate Tregloan summarise the participants comments about making all homes accessible: 

“Several opportunities to take advantage of, and to stimulate, both accessible and adaptable housing supply and demand were identified through the focus group. Participant 5 stated, “This is a conversation about housing for people with disability, not disability housing”. Aiming to design and build homes that may also be rented on the open market or on-sold highlighted the need for suitable housing models beyond single houses. This need for a range of housing options, suitable for on-selling, has been identified in both current research and NDIS policy documents (Wiesel et al. 2015a; National Disability Insurance Agency 2016c). Roundtable participants recommended a legislative approach to increase accessible housing supply. They felt this would ensure an increase in volume via inclusion of accessible design principles and relevant standards within regulations for all buildings (e.g. via the Building Code of Australia) and other regulatory devices. This was seen to offer benefits to people with disability as well as other community groups, such as ageing Australians who want to remain living at home. It was anticipated that a relatively low-cost impost would offer great community benefit, depending on the level of requirement established (e.g. silver-level Livable Design compliance; Livable Housing Australia, 2012). Participants suggested this approach may offer greater flexibility for any subsequent home modifications required for people with disability. Participant 7 summarised the need for further work in this area: “Making all housing accessible isn’t already a national level of discussion . . . Liveable Housing design can be taken over [and incorporated] into the Australian Standards”

There is much more to this study which includes inclusive communities, integrated technology and transportation.

Editor’s note: While such an approach will suit most people with disability, there are some people who will need a home designed or adapted around their particular needs and that of their carers. This is the role of the Specialist Disability Housing funded under the NDIS. 

 

Joining the dots for ageing in place

A chart shows the four main features of Lifelong homes: Safety, Walkable community, Visitability, and Affordability.A research paper from Colorado State University brings together all the elements for successful ageing in place – universal design in housing, walkable and wheelable communities and a discussion on home and place, and what it means for residents. It shows how simply providing infrastructure is insufficient to support population ageing. While the situation is a little different in the US, the research supports Australian studies and the advocacy for universal design in housing. However, the recommendation for market incentives in terms of certification has not worked in Australia, save for the specialised homes specifically for people with disability. It is a similar situation in New Zealand. It has not produced mainstream uptake of accessible housing.

The tile of the report is, Colorado Lifelong Homes: A review of barriers and solutions for aging in place. 

Abstract: Colorado’s aging population is growing, yet our housing options are not evolving to support this population. The need for housing that accommodates older adults as they age is crucial to balancing demands on other services, such as assisted living facilities, and to support successful and healthy aging. Most homes in our state are not built using principles of universal design that support successful aging in place. The outcomes of community and industry engagement activities show that advocating for lifelong housing is a critical step to help advance age-friendly housing in the state of Colorado. This paper summarizes key research and industry trends related to lifelong homes, the barriers in the marketplace, and the key qualities of lifelong homes. Based on this research, we present a path forward for advancing affordable, healthy, and safe home options for our growing population of older adults in Colorado and beyond.

 

What evidence? I’ll stick to what I know

Basilica tower at Pisa, Italy. It shows the lean to the right compared to the Basilica building. A culturally-ingrained habit of confirmation bias might be one of the reasons we still don’t have universal design in mass market housing. “This is the way it’s been done in the past, and no one’s been sued, therefore we will stick to this”. This quote from a stakeholder in an article by The Fifth Estate might be why the house building industry is missing the big picture.  The article is based on research by Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute where they looked at the question of social housing being treated as infrastructure in the same way as transport. But should it be treated as infrastructure or continue to be treated as welfare? According to the article, the most popular form of evidence used was feedback from previous projects: which implies that the practitioners tended not to look outside of their comfort zone. That’s how confirmation bias begins especially when the building industry claims that research is too hard to understand.

The Fifth Estate Article is titled, Why the building industry and social housing are missing the big picture. The AHURI article is a Policy Evidence Summary, Understanding business case frameworks for social housing. It is based on the Final Report No. 312.  

Flexible housing offsets risk

Picture of a tall long skinny house with white lattice covering. It fits into a driveway.The current standard design ideas for homes goes back more than a century. It’s time for a rethink on home design to suit the way we live our lives now is the claim in an article by Kirsty Voltz in The Conversation. Home designs are not keeping up with societal changes that include affordability, size of homes, accessibility across the lifespan, and designing so that as lives change, the interior of the home can adapt to suit. The risks are in not recognising the need to change and adapt to current circumstances, lifestyles, societal changes and personal aspirations. The article contains links to other references and concludes, “Existing housing stock is designed around the numbers of bedrooms and bathrooms that appeal to the market and so fails to be responsive to what people need from housing in the 21st century.” This includes the need for an update to the National Construction Code for creating homes that provide at least a basic level of accessibility for all. The picture is of the 3 bedroom home that Kirsty Voltz designed to fit in the space of an obsolete driveway.

Relationship between housing and health

A yellow brick house with yellow steps to the front door set back under a red brick archway.By undertaking a systematic review of the literature, Janet Ige and colleagues in UK found there is a strong association between housing and health. However, it is not clear that there is a causal link and their article argues that more research needs to be done. The team found more than 7,000 studies on the topic, with 39 matching their criteria for analysis. Findings showed that housing refurbishment and modifications, provision of adequate heating, improvements to ventilation and water supply were associated with improved respiratory outcomes, quality of life and mental health. The title of the article is, The relationship between buildings and health: a systematic review, and this can be downloaded from the Journal of Public Health, or you can download the PDF directly. 

Abstract: Background – The built environment exerts one of the strongest directly measurable effects on physical and mental health, yet the evidence base underpinning the design of healthy urban planning is not fully developed.  

Method: This study provides a systematic review of quantitative studies assessing the impact of buildings on health. In total, 7127 studies were identified from a structured search of eight databases combined with manual searching for grey literature. Only quantitative studies conducted between January 2000 and November 2016 were eligible for inclusion. Studies were assessed using the quality assessment tool for quantitative studies.

Results: In total, 39 studies were included in this review. Findings showed consistently that housing refurbishment and modifications, provision of adequate heating, improvements to ventilation and water supply were associated with improved respiratory outcomes, quality of life and mental health. Prioritization of housing for vulnerable groups led to improved wellbeing. However, the quality of the underpinning evidence and lack of methodological rigour in most of the studies makes it difficult to draw causal links.

Conclusion: This review identified evidence to demonstrate the strong association between certain features of housing and wellbeing such as adequate heating and ventilation. Our findings highlight the need for strengthening of the evidence base in order for meaningful conclusions to be drawn.  

Ageing better at home

Bathroom in an old house has been stripped and bare walls and old tiles remainBecause the majority of our homes are designed as if we are never going to grow old, most of us will need to modify our home as we age. That’s if you want to stay put, which is what most older people say is their preference. An easy to read and nicely presented report from Centre for Ageing Better in the UK gives an excellent overview of how home modification improves quality of life, mental health and overall independence. All good reasons for universally designing our homes from the start for the whole of our lives so modifications aren’t needed or are at least easier to do. Dwellings might be a “product” to property developers but for the rest of us a “home” is the pivot point for living our lives.

A great quote from a study participant to reflect upon, “You don’t get taught, at any point in your life, how to become an older person. It just sort of happens, you know…”. So waiting for consumers to ask for universal design isn’t going to work.

For a more academic take on a related issue of housing quality and health see a longitudinal study from UK.  

Housing: what theory and what research?

facade of an apartment building showing long balconiesThree academic articles come together for an intellectual tussle on housing theory and policy. David Clapham claims that there is a divide between researchers who focus on policy and those who focus on theory, and he asks where theory for housing research should come from and what it would look like. Hannu Ruonavaara, poses four positions about housing related theory: Is it possible to have one theory for all housing related research?; is it desirable to have one?; should we scrutinise housing as a special activity and experience?; and can we construct a theory about the relationships between the housing system and features of society?  Manuel Aalbers, who in his article, asks What kind of theory for what kind of housing research? responds to both academics. He discusses the pros and cons of their arguments. The point about housing research being largely for the audience of other housing researchers is well made. He believes it is more important to demonstrate the relevance of housing research to other social scientists. More importantly it needs to influence policy. Not light reading, but fascinating if you are a housing researcher or interested in housing policy. 

Downsizing? Baby Boomers defy predictions

Facade of a large two storey home commonly called a McMansionIt’s unlikely that baby boomers thought about their latter years when they bought their dream home. But they are having to think about it now. The renovation industry is due for a boom, particularly those versed in age-friendly universal design features. Housing experts predicted “the great senior sell-off”. But baby boomers aren’t downsizing – they are staying put.

Bruce Judd and his team at UNSW found that baby boomers like what they’ve got, and they are comfortable in their neighbourhoods. So retirement village living is less likely to attract. 

Mimi Kirk in a CityLab article looked at new research from Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies that discusses issues related to housing type, affordability and the different expectations of millennials and boomers. One other reason for boomers not selling is that millennials are not really interested in the style of homes of their parents and grandparents own. There goes the myth that boomers are (selfishly) holding onto homes that millennials could buy.